SCOTTSDALE, AZ — It was a long winding road to get to this point, but after the league and the players association agreed to end the 99-day MLB lockout Thursday afternoon, Major Leaguers began showing up to Salt River Fields first thing this morning ahead of Sunday’s mandatory report date.
"You love baseball, you love being a Diamondback, and then driving by and seeing work going on and people playing, it gives you that itch," catcher Carson Kelly said of having to stay away. "I'm glad to be out here now."
While many of the biggest names on the Diamondbacks roster weren’t in attendance on Friday, pitchers like Caleb Smith and Taylor Widener were throwing bullpens, while Kelly took batting practice and utility man Josh Rojas got some work in.
“We’ve been waiting for this one for a while,” said Rojas. “I did my best to stay ready for this day, whenever it came.”
Playing the waiting game wasn’t easy for guys like Kelly and Rojas as they eagerly anticipated returning to the diamond.
“My perspective coming in was, ‘let's just sign whatever they give us. I just want to play, I don't want to miss games,” Rojas said. “Then I started to learn about what was actually going on and I was against the owners like most people.”
One of the main goals of the union was to get the younger guys paid, raising the minimum salary to $700,000, with some of the highest earners in the game sticking up for players like Rojas, who was making close to the minimum.
“They were willing to miss games and they were willing to lose some of some of their money,” Rojas said of a guy like Max Scherzer. “For them to stand by our side and have our backs, and the future players to come and have their backs, it shows a lot. And as a younger player, if I make it to the next CBA, I want to do the same for the next guys.”
The players we spoke to felt like they made up significant ground from the last CBA, but the question that remains - how are the optics with the fans after a second ugly spat between the owners and players in as many years?
“The lockout wasn't ideal, but I think since we got going here pretty soon, and games are going to be played, I think it's going to be alright,” said Kelly. “I'm looking forward to seeing fans in the stands.”
They won’t have to wait long, as the first Spring Training game is Thursday, March 17 against the Colorado Rockies, meaning a very accelerated ramp up, especially for pitchers.
“That's probably one of the craziest things ever, but it's gonna be a lot of fun,” said Kelly. “We've been in touch over this lockout and going to different fields and talking and throwing bullpens and stuff, so we've been working together a lot, a few of the guys that have been in town.”
The condensed Spring Training schedule won’t be as jarring after going through a version of it two years ago for the COVID season.
“I think that 2020 year was a learning experience for me,” said Rojas. “When the season kicked off again, I came in out of shape and underweight. I wasn't really ready, and I was trying to kick it back into high gear really fast. And at this level, you can't do that, so I made sure that this time, I gotta stay ready.”
While the Spring Training opener is just six days away, the start of the regular season is less than a month out when the Diamondbacks host the San Diego Padres on April 7.