CORONAVIRUS

Iowa minor leaguers adjust to postponed baseball season, appreciate getting paid during break

Iowa Hawkeyes pitcher Cole McDonald winds up to deliver a pitch during the top of the second inning of their Big Ten Con
Iowa Hawkeyes pitcher Cole McDonald winds up to deliver a pitch during the top of the second inning of their Big Ten Conference baseball game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, April 5, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — You talk about an early test for your marriage.

Cole McDonald and his wife, Cassidy, were wed in January. The couple was in sunny and warm Florida just three weeks ago as Cole was at spring training with the Houston Astros.

The former University of Iowa pitcher from New Hampton was expected to eventually be assigned to the Quad Cities River Bandits of the Midwest League. It was going to be a great summer near home for the newlyweds.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. Spring training was postponed and everyone sent home, with no restart date for the 2020 season on the horizon.

“This whole experience, it doesn’t just affect me (solely) but my wife, because she was planning on coming along wherever I was going to go,” McDonald said. “We obviously couldn’t have planned for what was going to happen. But I do think it’s just going to make us a lot better at adjusting to things, doing things on the run and not just sticking to a plan. Because there really is no plan right now. We’re just waiting for a call and trying to figure out when things will get going again.”

Development for these guys is being stunted, careers literally stopped. Even worse for McDonald and every other minor leaguer was no paycheck.

These aren’t big leaguers. You don’t play, you don’t get pay.

“The common misconception is that we are getting paid full time. All 12 months,” said Zach Daniels, the former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep and former teammate of McDonald’s at Iowa, who is a pitcher in the Atlanta Braves organization. “But you only get paid when you actually play. That’s it. And that’s not to mention you don’t get paid in spring training or fall league or instructional league.”

Major League Baseball came through Tuesday when it announced a plan had been agreed upon to pay all minor leaguers $400 a week through May 31 or until the season begins. Health care benefits also were ensured.

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That’s a significant cut in pay for guys who were in Triple-A and making as much as $10,000 a month. But good news (no, great news) for players like McDonald, who are just starting out in their pro baseball careers.

He was drafted and signed last year by Houston.

“Definitely helps a lot, to say the least,” McDonald said. “We actually drove my wife’s parents’ car down to Florida. We were lucky enough to have them let us (borrow) it. Right now, we’re looking for a car to buy, so definitely getting back here and hearing we are going to get those payments, financially it just helps us a lot.

“Affording a car to drive around to wherever we’re going to be once the season eventually starts is huge. You don’t want to be a person mooching off your mom and dad’s money. You feel bad. You want to support yourself.”

But family is foremost in these times of crisis. Daniels is riding out this “break” at home with his parents and sister. Former Cedar Rapids Jefferson preps Connor and Spencer Van Scoyoc also are at home.

Connor is a pitcher in the Los Angeles Angels organization, Spencer a pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Mom and dad are housing them and, temporarily, a teammate of Spencer’s from Minnesota, which is under a stay-at-home directive from its governor.

Connor Van Scoyoc had Tommy John elbow surgery last fall but was at spring training in Arizona doing rehab and throwing again. He wasn’t going to pitch in games this season.

“It’s weird because this thing screws over so many people besides me,” he said.

Speaking of weird, Van Scoyoc said that was exactly the scene in Arizona when everything was going down last month.

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“It was like a really eerie situation,” he said. “Nothing felt comfortable, especially the day they canceled the spring training games and yet we were still down there working out. It felt like we weren’t supposed to be there anymore, but we still went in the next two days and kind of worked out. Finally they just said everyone stay home there in the (complex) apartments. It felt like we were in a movie. The weather was not nice down there at the time, the mood just drastically changed. It was weird.”

It was the same thing in Florida for Daniels.

“The day before we got shut down, we were supposed to drill live,” he said. “That just got turned into a bullpen. Then they had to send us home. It was a big shock to everyone. We were all upset by it, obviously, because we were finally starting to get into a groove with things. Then when things get shut down, you’re basically back to another offseason.”

Which means trying to find ways to stay in shape and stay sharp, in case there is some sort of season later this summer. Daniels and the Van Scoyocs are among a group of local players that includes big leaguers Mitch Keller and A.J. Puk who throw at the Dugout Sports indoor facility in Fairfax.

“I’ll just try and keep my same throwing schedule there that I had in the offseason,” Daniels said. “Working out wise, that’s a little bit tougher because there’s really not anything open. What I can do at home is basically what I have to work with … We’re all itching to get back out there.”

McDonald is using his brother in law’s basement in Pleasantville for strength-and-conditioning workout equipment.

“And, luckily, about a mile away, a guy had a shed built 10 years ago for his kids,” he said. “He built the mound, he has a batting cage, has targets and stuff. So I’ve been doing all my work in this shed. I can do all my throwing, throw bullpens with a target. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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