ick Zammarelli didn’t give it a second thought. He felt it would be best to remain situated in Peoria, Arizona after the Seattle Mariners folded up their spring training operation due to COVID-19.
“I’ve got an apartment out here and figured it would be safer to stay put rather than head back home,” said the Lincoln native when reached earlier this week. “Flying is something I didn’t want to do.”
When Zammarelli’s new normal became life without the benefits of the Mariners’ facility, he made a beeline to the nearest Dick’s Sporting Goods. The goal was to turn his apartment into some semblance of a home gym … exercise bench, dumbbells, and rubber flooring.
“I set up my own personal weight room on the balcony,” he said.
Hitting-wise, Zammarelli and a number of his minor league teammates have that important base covered. Three days a week, they’ll head to an undisclosed location where the back door is left unlocked.
“I don’t want to throw the guy under the bus, but we have a good little spot,” said Zammarelli, who was preparing for his fifth season in the Mariners’ organization. “One of my former minor-league teammates is actually throwing to us.”
It really hits Zammarelli that his baseball universe is on hold for now when he goes for a run that starts at his apartment with the finish line outside the Mariners’ complex. It’s one mile all told, yet it feels longer, especially when Zammarelli looks through the chain-link fences that now look uninviting.
“It’s extremely weird. I walked by the clubhouse and it was all locked up,” said Zammarelli. “It’s tough. We were in a situation where we were 2-3 weeks out from the start of the season. Next thing you now, everything is shut down.”
Zammarelli recalled his March 13 itinerary, which originally included meetings at designated time slots. Keep in mind this was before recommendations of how many should gather in a group really became stringent.
“They only wanted 30 or 40 guys there at a time,” said Zammarelli. “I thought they were going to talk to us about working out in groups. All of a sudden at noon, we got a text that everyone needs to be at the facility in 20 minutes for an urgent meeting.”
That same day, Major League Baseball ended up scrapping the remaining balance of spring training, declared the 2020 season would not start on time, and that minor leaguers needed to clear out ASAP. The rug was hastily pulled out from under Zammarelli and his MiLB brethren.
“Right when that message came, you knew something was going on,” said Zammarelli. “We got some new developments and were told that everyone has to go home. It was definitely shocking. You didn’t see it coming. We always thought we could stay [in Arizona] and work out at the facility. You saw on the news that things were getting worse and understood why they wanted to get everyone out of here. They wanted everyone to be safe.”
Under MLB’s plan to offer compensation to minor leaguers during the spring training portion of the stoppage, Zammarelli mentioned he received a check from the Mariners this past Tuesday. Come April 9, which would have been Opening Day for the 2020 minor league season, he’ll have to re-negotiate in the hopes of receiving additional financial assistance.
“The stipends we’re getting are a huge help. We’ve got to pay rent and stock up on food and water,” said Zammarelli. “It’s good that Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball stepped in and did this. [Minor leaguers] stopped getting paid last September 15 and could have been looking until at least June until we got paid again.”
A .275 hitter in 399 career minor-league games, Zammarelli collected one hit in one official at-bat during the two major-league spring training games he appeared in this spring.
He felt pleased with his approach at the plate was coming along and was awaiting word on whether he would be heading back to Double-A Arkansas (where he spent all of 2019) or sent to Triple-A Tacoma for his first taste of pro ball at a level where players traditionally stand one phone call away from the majors.
“There had been some adjustments I had been working on at the start of camp, but the more at-bats I got, the more everything started to click,” said Zammarelli. “I was starting to feel confident, but I keep telling myself that I have something to look forward to.”
In communicating with members of the Mariners’ training staff, Zammarelli is tricking his brain into believing it’s the early January portion of the offseason.
“Stay swinging, stay throwing and continue to lift, but we can’t do anything crazy because we don’t know what lies ahead. We don’t know how long we’re going to be stuck,” said Zammarelli. “We talk every day about when things will ramp back up. There’s no definite answer on what’s going on right now. We don’t know if we’ll have to ramp it up quickly or continue to shut it down. You don’t want to confuse your body too much.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03