The decision couldn’t be made in an instant or without some real thought and reflection. There needed to be discussion, even debate about what was best for his career and family.
Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager knew he could handle the financial hit if he opted to follow the lead of a handful of other established veteran players and sit out the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, essentially not taking a salary.
Seager, a husband and father of three young children, understood the risks of returning to his home near Seattle and participating in “Summer Camp” and a 60-game regular season amid the pandemic.
Besides the increased cases in Seattle, every city the Mariners are scheduled to visit in the regular season has seen major recent surges in confirmed cases.
This couldn’t be just about him and what he wanted to do. And though he has loyalty to the team that drafted, developed and gave him a $100 million contract as a reward for his early success, Seager also has a responsibility to his wife Julie, his son Crue and daughters Audrey and Emelyn.
“That’s real,” he said. “It changes things with families, it changes things; you start thinking about something other than yourself. Those are those are real concerns. Julie and I talked about it, (and) we kind of weighed the pros and cons.”
From his home in the woods of rural North Carolina where the nearest town is a 20-minute drive and COVID-19 was apparent only in newscasts and on the internet, he and Julie had to make a decision.
“We had quite a few discussions about whether if I do play, do they come to Seattle? Do they stay there?” Seager said. “How do the arrangements and everything work? Those were all legit discussions, and they’re legit concerns. I know some guys are obviously going in a different direction, but you know it’s something that everybody has certainly weighed.”
Former teammates Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake, Dodgers All-Star lefty David Price, Braves outfielder Nick Markakis, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitching brothers Tyson and Joe Ross are among the players who have opted out of this season. But Seager reported to Seattle last weekend with his wife and kids, moving back into their house in Issaquah.
“We have a place up here, so it kind of made a little bit of sense for them,” Seager said. “There’s a little bit more space here, too, so the kids can have a little more freedom and room around to run inside the house and everything.”
Besides Seager, perhaps the only other Mariners player with the financial flexibility to sacrifice 60 games of prorated salary for safety is Dee Gordon, who is in the final year of a five-year, $50 million contract. With Gordon recently becoming a first-time father to a baby girl, he’s joined Seager in pushing for the myriad young and inexperienced players in camp to follow the safety protocols at all times.
“It’s something that a few of our veteran players are talking about a lot to their teammates,” manager Scott Servais said. “Just about how they need to take it serious, because a lot of those veteran guys do have families already, and they still want to go home and see their kids and do those things.”
Though they are required to wear a mask only in the clubhouse, weight room and training room and at meetings, Gordon has worn a mask — custom made with a lightning bolt — at all times on the field. Seager has worn his mask about 80 percent of the time on the field.
They made an early point to let players know that vigilance with the protocols is the only way a season will work under the circumstances, and the only way to keep their teammates and, by extension, every player’s loved ones healthy and safe.
“Seag is the biggest one,” outfielder Braden Bishop said. “He’s got his family here with him. He talked to us (Sunday) just about how we’re put in this position and we have this opportunity to try and play. We can only control so much, but what we need to control is extremely important, more so than any other year.
“So while you need to focus on getting in what you need baseball-wise to get ready to play, you also have to take into account — ‘OK, I’m going back to the hotel, and I can’t do these certain things that I’ve been able do to in the past because it can affect 50 or 60 people.’ While the percentage is pretty small, we don’t want one of those serious cases to be part of our group.”
As the team’s most-tenured player, Seager treated it as a necessary responsibility, though he didn’t want credit for doing it.
“It might be my responsibility to certainly bring it up and have a discussion about it and everybody talks about it,” he said. “Nobody would prefer to wear masks; everybody would rather be able to go about our normal lives and do our normal things. Wearing a mask in the clubhouse is definitely strange, totally different, wearing a mask on the field is different.
“It’s not something we’re accustomed to doing, but ultimately it is what it is right now. If we put a mask on and we take care of our business, hopefully we can, you know, really get this thing rolling and we’ll get to play some games and do our job.”
On the first day of workouts, Seager wore a mask at different times on the field during drills, lowering it, adjusting it and eventually removing it out of annoyance and discomfort. But he didn’t abandon it. Like a progression on a swing change, he made some changes and increased wearing it a little more with each workout. Now it remains on almost the entire time.
So he’s comfortable with it?
“Not really, no, because it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable,” he said. “Once you get moving, it gets kind of hard. You start sweating in there and then it gets a little harder to breathe with those things on. It’s not ideal. It’s not great, but you know this is how it is right now — we put the mask on to do our jobs and go home.”
It goes beyond being able to play games — it’s teammates and their families.
“There’s been issues, obviously,” he said. “We all understand about the virus. We get that we’ve got to protect ourselves and our teammates, and we don’t want this thing to spread. So if we can control it, and if wearing a mask helps that, we can get this season rolling — that’s what I think we want to do.”
During the shutdown, Seager maintained the training and nutrition regimen that helped him shave 30 pounds before the 2019 season. Because of his remote location, he worked out in his barn where he has a small gym and a batting cage set up.
“For me, it was hard to take any ground balls or go play long-toss,” he said. “I didn’t want to go throw it in a field and go chase it, so that was an adjustment.”
Assistant hitting coach Jarret DeHart recommend a pitching machine for Seager to purchase that he could use in the cage.
“That was that was great for me, just to see the (velocity), which I hadn’t really seen before and especially in an offseason or a non-baseball season, so that was big for me,” he said. “I was able to get up in the mornings and got a full workout in. I was able to hit and throw it into the cage, which isn’t the same as playing on a field, obviously, but I was able to make do pretty well.”