The list of moments, rituals and feelings that 2020 rookies missed out on does not have a bottom. There were no parents — or any fans at all — for their first at-bats or pitches. First career hits couldn’t be celebrated with hugs. Dugout masks could hide big smiles for a player who waited his life for his breakthrough.
It took eight years and two different franchises for Chadwick Tromp to call himself a big leaguer. Caleb Baragar rocketed up from a brief stint at Triple-A Sacramento in 2019 to being on the major league roster Opening Day.
Their families watched from home. Veterans offered advice and joined them in celebrations, but didn’t offer anything like suits, as was baseball tradition for seasons that did not take place alongside a pandemic. There was so little contact allowed and so little out-of-the-ballpark opportunities to unite, typical rookie moments were lost in a year when so much else was.
Rookies carried around things like ball bags and speakers for veteran players, but rookie dress-up costumes never left the closet.
“With all the protocols, there’s really not a whole lot of time to hang out with each other and stuff,” Baragar said over the phone at the close of the season. “So I guess from that aspect, it’s definitely different.”
What survived, at least in substance if not in detail, was the clubhouse chaos following a rookie’s big moment.
For Baragar, it came immediately. July 25 was the Giants’ first win of the season and Baragar’s first win of his career, throwing two scoreless innings at Dodger Stadium, his first of a team-high five victories for the middle-inning lefty.
He then left the field and disappeared into a clubhouse for a ritual that players like Jeff Samardzija, who mentored him, were not going to ignore.
“Get in here and take your jersey and pants off and get in the laundry cart,” Baragar remembered being told to him, which he quickly obeyed. “The rest I don’t really remember too much. I was just covered in beer and soap and everything else.”
The postgame “showers” for rookies who had just broken through were different — masks were worn, even if the blindfolded player couldn’t see them. But they still took place during the 2020 campaign, or at least they usually did.
“I did not. But don’t tell them because they’re going to make up for it,” Tromp, who played his first games, had his first hits and home runs this year, said over the phone this week to the wrong person. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m in it too, throwing beer at them and stuff. But they forgot [about me].”
The quieter, more everyday aspects of life as a rookie were unharmed in 2020. Mentors still existed, advice was still given out by players who have been there.
For Baragar, that meant listening to Samardzija until the 13-year veteran got hurt. The 35-year-old lefty Tony Watson, whose trajectory to the majors mirrored Baragar’s nine years earlier, became the go-to voice.
“He’s a guy who’s been around for so long. He was a starting pitcher in the beginning and then transititiond to the reliever role,” said Baragar, who was a trusted weapon for Gabe Kapler throughout the season. “For me to be able to have somebody like that that I can bounce different questions off, get more information on what I should be doing, what kind of routines I should be able to get my body into since the whole reliever role was pretty new for me. Tony’s been the biggest help.”
For Tromp, a catcher who was learning his own pitchers, opposing pitchers, the position itself and trying to prove he could hit at the major league level, he was in too many meetings and had too much help from everyone to have one voice in his ear throughout. He remembered cage conversations with Wilmer Flores; he couldn’t pin down one coach as most helpful, but instead glowed about catching coach Craig Albernaz, pitching coach Andrew Bailey, assistant pitching coach Ethan Katz, director of pitching Brian Bannister, quality-assurance coach Nick Ortiz, hitting coach Justin Viele and assistant coach Mark Hallberg. The Giants had a lot of coaches.
They also had a veteran third baseman whom Tromp considers a Hall of Famer and whose every movement he kept track of.
“Just watching him every day and watching his routine,” Tromp said of Evan Longoria. “He gave me some solid advice throughout the year. He doesn’t talk too much, but whenever he speaks, you got to listen to what he has to say.”
What advice stood out?
“To not be too comfortable,” said Tromp, who rehabbed with Longoria leading up to Opening Day, the third baseman dealing with an oblique injury and the catcher a tight hamstring. “And just understand that I need to make adjustments and also how to take care of my body. I remember before the season started [when we were hurt] … and he just reminded me just don’t push it too much, that you’ve got a long career ahead of you.”
A career that will hopefully look and feel far different in Year Two than Year One.
“I have to say that I feel like it’s coming next year,” Tromp predicted of the traditions he missed out on. “I feel like everything from this year, I’m gonna hold them to it. It might be a sophomore dress-up.”