CEDAR RAPIDS — Cal Eldred is an optimist. The sky in his world is indeed blue.
Royal blue, to be specific.
The Eastern Iowa native and Kansas City Royals pitching coach was asked Tuesday if he felt there would be a 2020 Major League Baseball season. Keep in mind, this was an hour or two before the news that MLB had sent its players an economic proposal to begin play in July that apparently was less than well received by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Everything is shut down right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ll have a season, yeah,” Eldred said, after just getting done with a Zoom meeting between first-year manager Mike Matheny and the entire Royals coaching staff. “What exactly it’s going to look like, how many games we’re going to play, that’s going to depend on so many questions (being answered).”
Eldred figures this is the first time since he was about 6 or 7 years old that he hasn’t been on or around a baseball diamond in late May. He communicates with at least three or four of his Royals pitchers daily and mentors sons C.J. and Luke during throwing sessions in the front yard of the family’s home near Mount Vernon or at the Dugout Sports indoor baseball facility in Fairax.
C.J. Eldred is a minor leaguer in the Royals system, Luke rehabbing from Tommy John elbow surgery. He is pitching at Dallas Baptist University.
Cal and his wife, Christi, also have three daughters, and all five kids are home right now.
“You wake up every morning thinking ‘You know, I know I’m supposed to be doing something, but I can’t remember what,’” Cal Eldred said with a laugh. “It’s the old ‘I forgot my homework at home.’ You’re trying to get into the basketball game, but you can’t get your shoes tied. That’s kind of what it’s like. That’s your thought process. Man, what am I forgetting? I know I’m forgetting something.”
Eldred was an all-state pitcher at old Urbana High School, starred at the University of Iowa, was a first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1989 and spent 14 seasons in the big leagues, all in the Midwest, for Milwaukee, the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
His post-playing career included being a special assistant to the general manager in St. Louis and Kansas City, taking over pitching coach duties for the Royals last season. Kansas City is in a rebuilding phase from top to bottom, finishing 64-98 last season.
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“I guess the easy answer is (Kansas City General Manager) Dayton Moore asked me,” Eldred said, when asked why he decided to get back into the daily big-league grind. “It’s something I thought maybe I’d always want to do when I got done playing. Then working in St. Louis and watching part of the development process in that organization, the front-office process, scouting and coaching for the big league team, it really piqued my interest. I really like player development a lot. I like doing stuff in the front office. But coaching was something I felt like I’ve had little bit of everything happen to me in my career, and pitchers and players turn to people like that, that can share that, quite often.
“Because they’re going through it, they’re going through some phase of that. And I really felt like that is what I needed to do. I liked being home, don’t get me wrong. I liked the part-time, going back and forth that I had previously. But this is what I feel I’m supposed to be doing.”
And Eldred, 52, feels like what MLB is supposed to be doing is playing right now. The initial proposal to players includes an 82-game regular season with no fans, expanded playoffs and 67 pages of health-and-safety protocols.
That’s everything from regular coronavirus testing and daily temperature checks to not being allowed to take postgame showers at the ballpark.
“Obviously, the thing that’s going to be the highlight is the money argument. (But) they’ll work it out, they’ll figure it out,” Eldred said. “The next thing is all of the COVID restrictions, which everyone has their opinions about. I think what they really want to do is get us started and then hopefully have things go relatively smoothly. I think it’s a pipe dream that no one is going to test positive for this thing. You don’t get that many people together and no one gets a cold or the flu, something. But that’s part of normal life, so we need to be able to roll with the punches and handle it correctly.”
Eldred said he didn’t have reservations about going to back to work in this coronavirus environment.
“I don’t,” he said. “What I think you are doing is putting together some of the healthiest groups of people, a strong group. That does not mean it couldn’t have a devastating effect on someone. But so does cancer, so does the flu, so do a lot of things. And we don’t hide from that.
“I don’t think our country wants us to hide from that. That’s my opinion. When I walk around enough, people are like ‘When are you guys going to go back to work so I have something to do in the evening?’ So, you know what, there are a lot worse tasks and tougher tasks to be asked to do to help, I guess, the frame of mind, the positivity of our country, then going to play a baseball game.”
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