Detroit — It’s still difficult to fathom baseball games being played this summer without fans.
Big major-league ballparks with big-league players, but nobody in the stands watching them.
The emotion of a packed ballpark seems vital for a closer such as the Detroit Tigers' Joe Jimenez. But, Jimenez doesn’t feel it’ll be as big an issue as many think.
Mainly, because Jimenez can remember his minor-league days.
“Sometimes they would have empty stadiums,” Jimenez said Tuesday on a Zoom call with reporters after a morning workout. “I don’t really think about it that much. I don’t think there will be any difference. Getting ready and warming up for a game is what gets you there.
“It’s on you the way you prepare and warm up to get into a game. I don’t think it will matter. It (would) obviously if they were there. It would make a difference. But, we’ll be fine.”
Jimenez decided against returning to native Puerto Rico, and stayed in Lakeland, Florida, during the pandemic once the coronavirus hit and spring training was shut down.
Jimenez actually came out of the nearly four-month quarantine lighter. He lost about 15 pounds
“I feel great, like in midseason form,” Jimenez said. “I was 265 (before the quarantine) and now I’m 250. I did lose some weight, and I feel great. I feel like I’m in good shape, in midseason shape.”
A combination of taking it easy in terms of weight-room work, and simply eating better, worked for Jimenez.
“I tried to eat as healthy as I could,” Jimenez said, “and we weren’t allowed to go to the weight room (at the Lakeland complex). I was doing my stuff in the garage, basically. I don’t feel weak at all. I feel good to go.”
Jimenez, 25, 4-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 66 games last season, collecting nine saves. He struck out 82 in 59⅔ innings.
In a short, 60-game season like this one, Jimenez feels the Tigers can surprise analysts.
“Anything can happen,” Jimenez said. “Every game counts. Everyone is doing their part so we can have a good season. It’s a short season and it’s baseball, so anything can happen. We will have a good season as a team.
“I feel ready and good to go. I didn’t stop working out or playing catch. My arm feels good.”
Many athletes will tell you teams are like families, and with families, there’s usually a lot of hugging.
There is in sports, too. But not right now, during the pandemic.
That’s one glaring difference these days from usual baseball camps, as players are practicing social distancing and staying apart as much as they can.
“Being on a team, it’s like a family,” Jimenez said. “You hug and do that kind of stuff. We can’t do that here, so that’s a big difference.”
Cameron Maybin is one of the most enthusiastic and emotional Tigers, and is definitely sensing the difference these days.
“I’m all about hug season, but right now I’ve been giving everybody two-finger salutes,” Maybin said. “People know right now is not the time (to hug). We’ve been put it on the back burner for now and keep moving and staying safe right now.”
So what are the Tigers doing instead of hugging?
“We’re working on that,” Jimenez said. “We haven’t spent much time together, but we’re working on that.”
Catcher Austin Romine, signed last winter in free agency, was one of the Tigers who received rave reviews in spring training for his leadership skills.
Romine, along with Maybin and Jonathan Schoop, all were veterans brought in to help lead a young, inexperienced roster.
A four-month pause because of a pandemic doesn’t help foster and broaden relationships, but Romine felt much of that was accomplished during spring training.
“(During the) first half of spring training, I built relationships and got to know guys and coming back; it feels like the next year,” Romine said. “It’s been an easy transition, just hitting the ground running with it. It’s been good so far.”
Being in California during the quarantine, Romine stayed sharp by working with a pitching machine and doing various drills.
There was also Romine’s 7-year-old son who did his part.
“He threw Wiffle balls at me to keep my mind sane,” Romine said. “No breaking balls. We don’t want to mess that arm up. It just gave you a little more time with family, and that was OK.”
Romine has been impressed with the way the Tigers’ pitching staff has returned from the suspended training.
“This is unchartered territory,” Romine said. “But I can tell you all these guys did exactly what they should have done to be ready. They didn’t miss a beat. They made sure to be physically ready when called upon.”