BUFFALO — The Yankees head “home” for what will likely be the last time this season on Thursday. It will hardly feel like it though.
For some guys whose families did not come with them for this intense, shortened season, played in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, New York hadn’t felt much like a home all season.
MLB’s new plan to put players in a bubble before the playoffs — the Bombers will fly back to New York City, but the players, coaches, support staff and Aaron Boone will head to a hotel Thursday night — added another layer of players and coaches missing their kids and spouses.
“I have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old and a pregnant wife so it’s been hard,” pitcher Zack Britton said. “They’re not interested in FaceTime with me for that long, so they just keep asking when I’ll be home or when they can see me.
“But, I signed up for it,” Britton said. “I had the ability to opt out if I didn’t want to do it. Me and my wife felt like this was the right thing to do, and I knew it was gonna be hard.
“So when we win a World Series, it will make it all worth it.”
That will be almost a month away in an even more tightly-controlled bubble created by the league to try and finish this season amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.
There were challenges at the ballpark with every other day testing and remembering to socially distance in the clubhouse and wearing masks, Britton said. But the biggest challenge was not seeing his family.
“This has been harder than any other 162-game season I’ve ever played just from that aspect of not seeing my kids and not seeing my wife,” Britton said. “I understand a lot of people are going through that too right now, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” Britton said. “I think that’s just the hardest thing, not being able to see them when I get home for, well, it’s been multiple months now.
“The other stuff, the protocols and things like that, I mean it is what it is and I don’t find those too restricting,” Britton continued. “I think just, starting the way that we did and a short spring, with only the 60 games where you feel like — and they are — every win is extremely important. I just think the stress level and the intensity level this year is a little bit more than what you would get in 162 games. Normally the month of September, in a regular season, would be really high stress games, but throughout the course of this whole season, every game has had that same level of intensity so it’s been a really difficult year.”
Britton was not alone in leaving his kids back home. Many players and their wives watched as New York City became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak early on and decided it was too big a risk. With the restrictions in place, the health and safety protocols would limit what they could do as a family during the season anyway. Some had school-aged children who they wanted to make sure would be ready if in-person classes reopened at home.
It’s been almost three months since most of them packed up and left for the Bronx for the rebooted spring training and said goodbye to their families.
Usually the playoffs are a time when baseball families reconvene and travel together. Families are part of playoff travel plans and for guys like Brett Gardner, if the Yankees were to get to the World Series, it’s something he would like his kids to see.
But this year, it’s too hard.
“My kids are back home and in school and life is pretty normal there and I feel like the whole bubble situation makes it very difficult for guys’ families to be able to come do that and be a part of things unfortunately,” Brett Gardner said. “So you know, personally, I understand the thought behind it. I’m not happy about it.”
Neither was J.A. Happ. He said last week he couldn’t ask his wife and young children to go through the MLB-required seven-day quarantine in a hotel separate from him in order to qualify to be in the playoff bubble.
Like Britton, he said this was just the latest in months of challenges for players off the field.
“In my particular situation, it’s tough to transfer my family to then sit in a hotel for seven days,” Happ said. “So that’s not going to be something I think we’re going to do. That’s tough. You know, it’s been that way. It’s been a challenge this this season and it’ll continue to be.”