Typically most professional baseball players at all levels look forward to Memorial Day weekend when games are often played in front of festive, overflow crowds as spectators prepare for the unofficial start to summer.
But with the season still on hold, players and coaches of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, whose Atlantic League of Professional Baseball season was originally slated to begin on April 30 but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, have found various ways to stay mentally and physically prepared for the pending start to the 2020 campaign.
Manager Stan Cliburn, heading into the second season of his second stint with Southern Maryland, has kept tabs on his players throughout the delay. Cliburn has spent much of the spring in Florida and Mississippi but stayed busy filling the Blue Crabs roster with youthful starting pitchers and outfielders.
“It’s definitely been a different spring,” said Cliburn, who spent the 1980 season with the California Angels. “By now, we are usually three weeks into the season and our roster is set. I can’t wait to get back to Southern Maryland and get back on the field. I’ve been in contact with the guys and made sure they’re running, stretching and staying ready for the spring training when we get approval to have one.”
Southern Maryland pitcher and pitching coach Daryl Thompson, a 2003 La Plata High School graduate and former major league hurler, has also found ways to stay occupied. Thompson, the Atlantic League’s top pitcher in 2019, has stayed focused on the start of the season.
“One thing I have been doing a lot is watching the Michael Jordan documentary on ESPN,” said Thompson, referring to “The Last Dance”, which aired its final two episodes last weekend. “I’ve spent a lot of time watching that series, but I’ve been staying loose, running, throwing on the side. But it’s not the same as being on the field. I can’t wait to get back on the field.”
Southern Maryland infielder Kent Blackstone, who spent much of last season at second base and formed a solid double play dual with shortstop Edwin Garcia, regarded as one of the league’s best defensive players at any position, has also found ways to keep his arms, feet and mind busy during the pandemic as the eventual start to the season looms.
“I’ve been working out a lot and just trying to stay as physically ready as possible,” Blackstone said. “There are plenty of places to go running and on days when it’s cold and rainy and can’t get outside I make sure to stretch. But there’s really no substitute for being on the field, running bases, throwing, taking batting practice and taking infield. I can’t wait to get back in the stadium.”
Knowing that his pitching staff and position players are staying mentally and physically prepared for the outset of the season has given Cliburn plenty of optimism for the 2020 campaign. The Blue Crabs are seeking to rebound from a 59-81 season of a year ago and seek a return trip to the Atlantic League Championship Series dating back to Cliburn’s previous stint.
“We have really focused on bringing a younger team together this season,” Cliburn said. “We have signed a lot of good starting pitchers and fast, defensive players. Good pitching and good defense wins ballgames. I know the guys are staying ready, mentally and physically, for the start of the season and they’re really eager to get back on the ballfield.”