Ethan Hearn spent much of his time last week working on lawn mowers.
Jeremiah Jackson stayed mostly around his house, practicing social distancing.
Both were “socially distant” — more than 1,600 miles away in fact — from where they planned to spend the month of March, Major League Baseball spring training in Arizona.
“It stinks because everyone was looking forward to the season,” said Jackson, the former St. Luke’s Episcopal star and 2018 Alabama Mr. Baseball. “My swing felt good. I was excited to get out of rookie ball for the first time. We were working every day to get better, and the next thing you know it was time to go home.”
Jackson, a 6-foot shortstop, was drafted No. 57 overall by the Los Angeles Angels in June of 2018. He spent the 2019 season with the Rookie League Orem Owls, hitting .260 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs. The 20-year-old had just five at-bats before his second spring training was suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was weird,” Jackson said. “We all knew it (the hiatus) was coming. It was just a matter of whether they would keep us in Arizona or send us home. I had an option and, at first, wanted to stay there and be around the hitting coordinators and strength coaches. But the next day they called and said, ‘Hey, we are shutting it down. We will get you a flight home tomorrow.’ At that point, I knew things were getting serious.”
Jackson was with his teammates at the Angels’ spring training camp in Tempe. Ironically, he was just 20 minutes away from Hearn, the former Mobile Christian catcher and 2019 Class 4A Player of the Year. Hearn, now listed as a catcher and first baseman, was picked in the sixth round of the 2019 Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs.
“I think we could all see it coming, but not to this extent,” Hearn said of the mandated break. “They gave us an off day during spring training, which is rare. They had the facility deep cleaned. We thought we were all coming back the next day, then everyone started getting texts and we started going home after that.”
Hearn received his first 80 minor league at-bats last season and was hoping to show continued improvement this season.
“It was going great,” he said. “I came to camp early. I was getting in a lot of good work, working with some veterans. The off-season was huge for me because I was working with some older guys who will probably in the big leagues soon. That’s been awesome.”
For now, however, the clock has stopped for Hearn, Jackson and all players.
“I feel like it’s hurting everyone,” Hearn said. “Pro baseball is all about age. The younger you get in, the better you can be. If we don’t play, it’s another year I’ve wasted in trying to move up in the organization. Time ain’t gonna stop.”
Jackson echoed Hearn’s sentiments, though he also feels for the older players he has met.
“Every year really counts,” he said. “There will be a new draft class coming in. There are always new guys. I feel like Ethan and I are both valued in our organization and we have plenty of time. But I do feel for guys who have been playing for a while and the high school and college guys this year who were trying to show scouts what they could do. It’s a tough situation.”
Jackson is the No. 4 prospect in the Angels organization. Hearn is No. 14 in the Cubs organization. Former McGill-Toolen star Bubba Thompson, drafted No. 26 overall by the Texas Rangers in 2017, is 15th in that organization. Thompson was in Surprise, Arizona, when he got the news.
“I was feeling good, playing good, feeling healthy, ready to start the season and this happened,” he said. “I probably would have started in High-A (Kinston, N.C.) and gone from there. It’s frustrating.”
Thompson played 30 minor league games in 2017, 84 in 2018 and 57 last year as he dealt with early injuries. He has a .249 career average with 16 homers and 75 RBIs.
“Everything was going smoothly until the NBA shut down,” Thompson said. “When that happened, the writing was on the wall. A few days later, we were all going home.”
Hearn’s former coach at Mobile Christian, Talley Haines, played in the minor leagues for 10 years. He said it’s hard to imagine what players are going through right now.
“It’s different,” he said. “We had a few hurricane situations when I was playing, and we had some trips cancelled and missed a week or two. It’s tough because you get in such a grind. You are playing every day, or you are traveling — one of the two. When you are not playing, it’s miserable. Sometimes it’s more of a mental deal than anything. The physical work is easy, but the mental work is tougher.”
Unfortunately, there is no timetable on when spring training could resume, when the 2020 season might start or even if it will.
“I don’t know what is going to happen,” Hearn said. “No one does. I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep working out, but I’m ready to get back at it as soon as we can.”
“It’s a waiting game right now,” said Thompson, who is spending most of his time in Mobile working out and fishing right now. “I just have to stay in shape and be ready to go when I get that call.”
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