The Tampa Bay Rays were in the middle of playing the Philadelphia Phillies in Port Charlotte on March 12 when the announcement came from the MLB: The regular season was suspended. After a team meeting the next morning, players packed their bags and went their separate ways to isolate with their families and significant others.
“It was pretty shocking, says outfielder Austin Meadows. “We were two weeks away from Opening Day. That’s the time during spring training that you’re more than halfway through, and you’re starting to taste Opening Day. [You’re] getting excited, you’re starting to feel locked in at the plate.”
“It was kind of crazy how one day everything seemed like we should be fine and [should] be able to get through some things,” adds pitcher Ryan Yarbrough. “Then after that it was like, bang. It’s done.”
With potential start dates for the baseball season still up in the air as of the time this magazine went to press, both players say it’s been challenging to develop and maintain a fitness routine not knowing how close they are to taking the field again [Editor’s note: The MLB announced a return-to-play plan in early July. The Rays will open the 2020 season at home on July 24 against the Toronto Blue Jays] .
“You don’t have access to things that you’re used to having access to when it comes to having a weight room, having a baseball field,” Meadows says. “That just goes away, and you try to be creative.”
Meadows’ social media followers have gotten a peek into his creativity over the past few months. He has enlisted the help of his golden retriever, Mailey, in his workout routine. They’ll play catch at his St. Petersburg home, or Meadows will use her as a weight for moves like presses and squats. “She might not like it sometimes,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s the best option right now.”
Yarbrough has also had a workout buddy during his time in isolation — though his was human. Rays prospect Shane McClanahan has been staying with Yarbrough and his wife, Nicole, for the past few months, and the two have been able to play catch in their South Tampa backyard and lift weights borrowed from a local gym. But this time has been particularly tough on Yarbrough. As a pitcher who is off for five days between games, he has his typical daily routine down to a science — one that has been completely thrown off by the unknown of when play will resume.
“Normally in the offseason, we have this timeframe to get your body right, and you have a deadline, a timeframe,” he says. “In this instance, you know at some point you’re hopefully going to play, but you don’t really know when. So it’s kind of hard to judge how much to do, how hard to push things, [whether] to continue to throw.”
Both Meadows and Yarbrough have made sure to have a little fun in their unexpected time off. Meadows and his wife, Alexis, have tried to get out on their boat almost every day to fish or hit the beach. Being able to spend time with her has been the biggest silver lining of this time away from baseball, Meadows says, and it’s given him a chance to see all the hard work she puts into keeping the household running while he’s focused on the game.
“Being able to realize that, being with her every day, has been a true blessing to realize how much she’s sacrificed for this family, and I think a lot of guys could say the same,” he adds.
Like most of America, the Yarbroughs got sucked in by the viral Netflix docuseries Tiger King (“We sit down and watch the first episode or two, and I’m like, crap. We’ve gotta watch all of these, don’t we?” he says), as well as the hit show Ozark and HBO documentaries.
But they’ve also made time to give back. Yarbrough and his wife partnered with Buddy Brew Coffee to donate breakfasts to the staff members of St. Joseph Hospital’s intensive care unit. Close friends of Nicole’s relayed the stresses of dealing with the virus in their roles as nurses in Atlanta, and the Yarbroughs were inspired to do something to recognize the health professionals in the Tampa community.
“[It was] just a little gesture to thank them, and they were super appreciative and in really good spirits. We’re just really happy that we could just help them in one way,” Yarbrough says.
Meadows worked with the sports camp company ProCamps to host a virtual “teaching” session with Hillsborough County students on Facebook. He showed the students his workout, told them how he was staying motivated during isolation, and had the chance to answer 10 questions to prove whether he was smarter than a fifth grader. The verdict?
“I definitely was not smarter than a fifth grader,” he says with a laugh.
As players begin to work out at Tropicana Field in small groups, both Yarbrough and Meadows say they feel the same anxiety fans do to get back on the field, but they are prioritizing safety above all else.
“As a fan of the game growing up, all I wanted to do was watch baseball. All I wanted to do was watch sports on TV,” he says. “I know the MLB will take the correct steps in getting us back playing safely. Just continue to have hope, and hopefully we’ll be out there soon.”