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Hunkering Down in a Pandemic

Rick Sweet Embraces the Challenges of a New World
March 20, 2020

Normally, San Antonio Missions manager Rick Sweet spends most of March on a baseball field at spring training. He reports to work on a daily basis, either attending meetings, conducting practices or observing from the dugout as players battle for roster spots in minor-league exhibition games. This year, it’s different.

Normally, San Antonio Missions manager Rick Sweet spends most of March on a baseball field at spring training. He reports to work on a daily basis, either attending meetings, conducting practices or observing from the dugout as players battle for roster spots in minor-league exhibition games.

This year, it’s different.

As the Milwaukee Brewers’ unflappable Triple-A skipper said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, he has embraced the changes in his life and in baseball in the wake of a worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Generally speaking, the 67-year-old Sweet is spending less time at the ball park and more time at home.

“We’re just hunkered down,” said Sweet, who lives with his wife and son in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. “We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and not adding to any of the (health) problems that can happen out there (in public).”

Last week, the U.S. government recommended restrictions on large gatherings of people to slow the outbreak of infections. Major League Baseball, in turn, called off spring training for all 30 teams. As a result, the regular season at all levels of baseball faces an indefinite delay. Originally, MLB was set to open next week, on March 26. MiLB, including the Missions, were scheduled for an April 9 home date against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. All of that has been scrapped, with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suggesting that the earliest possible start would be mid-May.

Others have suggested that it’s pointless to speculate, because everything depends on when the medical community can get a handle on the situation. Meanwhile, Sweet is keeping up with the news and is trying to stay positive.

“You know, I watch the press conferences every day,” he said. “I am keeping track of where (we are) and how we’re handling this. I’m 67 (years old). We’ve gone through a lot of things in my lifetime, and we always come out of it ahead, and we will do that with this (pandemic), also.”

If baseball gets the green light to re-start later this spring or this summer, a new preseason training session would likely need to be conducted. Sweet said the Brewers believe it would take “two to three weeks” to get ready for the season opener. The training site would be held either in Phoenix or Milwaukee, he said, speculating that Phoenix seems more likely because the team will need more than one field.

“I would think the minor leaguers, they may do it differently,” Sweet said. “We may send 35 guys to San Antonio and say, ‘All right, let’s get in shape. Let’s get ready to open the season.’ A shortened season, wherever they’re at. But I think they’ll figure that out when the time comes, what’s going to work out best.”

For the time being, the Brewers have dispersed. Major leaguers were given the choice of remaining in Phoenix (if they lived in the area), traveling to Milwaukee or going back to their home residences. Minor leaguers, Sweet said, for the most part have all been sent home.

In coming weeks, Sweet will help out with the Phoenix-based workouts.

“We will have players and pitchers coming in (Friday),” he said. “We will have a few (coaching) staff people who are here (living in Phoenix), and we’ll go through workouts in small groups, you know, 10 or less.”

Heading into his 31st season as a minor league manager and his second with the Missions, Sweet said the pandemic has forced him to change his style to protect his players, and himself.

“You know, it’s funny when I see guys (now),” he said. “I’m a pat-on-the-shoulder, a touch-feel kind of guy. But now I stay six to 10 feet away from everybody. All of the players do that, too.”

At home, during his down time, Sweet is a lot like the rest of Americans in the new world -- searching for ways to pass the time. For instance, as he updated Missions fans on the status of the team, he kept an eye on his computer screen.

Streaming live into his home? It was snack time at a wildlife outpost in Florida.

“On my computer right now is a bald eagle and two chicks,” Sweet said. “They’re all asleep after they ate a fish. I’m watching that on my computer right now…It’s awesome.”

Missions manager Rick Sweet on Thursday detailed how his life has changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he supports government-ordered restrictions on the size of social gatherings and is trying to find ways to pass the time.