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How Gabe Kapler and his Giants are spending a strange ‘Opening Day’


Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports


There are no clouds on the radar, the sun expected to be at full blast at 1 p.m. above Dodger Stadium on a pretty ideal 60-degree day.

Below that sun, though, there will be no one wearing orange and black, no Clayton Kershaw-Johnny Cueto faceoff, no first pitch that ushers in a long season of baseball that millions plan by each season.

In a time of uncertainties and fear, Opening Day is far, far, far down the list of victims, but the fact no one will be packed in at Chavez Ravine nor at Oracle Park on April 3 is another reminder of the havoc the coronavirus has wrought.

Instead of inspiring his players, last-minute chats with Cueto and discussing ideal positioning with bench coach Kai Correa, Gabe Kapler will be “probably having phone conversations” when 1 p.m. rolls by.

The Giants manager is still in Arizona, as is Farhan Zaidi, never leaving the state that holds spring training once camp was unceremoniously let out March 12, when MLB decided it couldn’t continue allowing these groups of players to congregate when fighting a pandemic that is so easily spread. Instead of beginning a second chance that he wasn’t sure would come, the former Phillies manager is brushing up on his Spanish, checking in with players and having weekly Zoom meetings with staff.

He’s still going outdoors to hike or run — “while still practicing social distancing, away from people” — and even is now part of a book club with his coaches. (They’re starting with Daniel Coyle’s “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups,” of which some coaches had read and Kapler had read a few chapters.)

“We all wish we were out there hearing the cheers of Giants fans on Opening Day,” Kapler told KNBR on the eve of what was to be Opening Day. “The best thing we can all do right now is flatten the curve so that we can get our country healthy and safe, then get back to baseball.”

He was quick to try to bring perspective to any baseball question, wanting the focus to be on how the world can react to the disease and not how the Giants are biding their time.

He said yes, he and the Giants’ front office still can discuss roster battles, but, “What’s on the front of mind right now is making sure we’re paying good attention to social distancing.”

He’s still talking often to the players, with pitching coach Andrew Bailey most often in communication with pitchers to track how their arms are feeling and what work they’re putting in. Pitchers will be the most tricky to handle whenever a second spring training starts up, which can only occur at the earliest in mid-May but may be later than that.

The Giants’ camp was all about competition, matching up players in drills in the hopes it would make everyone better. In the same spirit, the Giants are looking toward “creative ways to keep our physical energy going,” Kapler said, which includes video yoga classes and video drill suggestions for players.

Those players are scattered all over, with a handful still in Arizona but the majority returning to their homes. Leron Sarig, the team’s dietitian, has created “how to” videos for cooking meals that are available to players trying to keep up the same diet they left in Scottsdale.

No Dodger Dogs on Opening Day. No group meetings, either, for a new-look franchise that relied so heavily on them.

“We’re all working to stay connected and building,” said Kapler, who will keep awaiting his Giants debut.

 

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