When baseball spring training camps closed officially about three weeks ago, at least some players on every team stayed around a while to work out, as best they could. But when they strongly were advised to go home, most of them did, either taking their families with them or to see their families.
Kwang Hyun Kim did not because, largely, he could not. He is no closer to home than he was before.
Kim, the South Korean lefthander signed to a two-year deal by the Cardinals in the offseason, has left the Cardinals’ training site in Jupiter, Fla., and now is in St. Louis at the club’s request. But president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, in a Zoom teleconference with reporters Thursday on what would have been the day of the home opener, said Kim may even be allowed to return to South Korea to see his wife and two small children in Incheon.
“I can only imagine the mental challenge he’s under with his wife and children back in South Korea and trying to adapt to a new country and a new team and then have all this thrust upon him,” said Mozeliak. The executive was referring to the coronavirus pandemic in which, strikingly, cases have dropped sharply in the last two weeks in South Korea.
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“There wasn’t a whole lot going on in Jupiter at this time so we figured it might make the most sense for him just to get settled and go to the place where he most likely would call home for a while,” said Mozeliak.
“I have been in discussions with him in terms of possibly returning to South Korea because it has opened up again and he could visit his family. But we have not determined if that will happen or not because there is the risk that the borders could be shut down and travel could be limited. We’re just trying to navigate this as best we can.
“Clearly, this has not been easy for him. I think all of us could understand why.”
For now, Mozeliak said that if Kim needed to play catch or work out, he could do so with veteran righthander Adam Wainwright, who is back here now.
Kim, who could either start or relieve for the Cardinals, was among their most impressive players in camp, allowing five hits and no runs in eight innings over four games while striking out 11. Opponents hit just .172 against him.
Mozeliak said there was very little activity in Jupiter now.
“We are basically closed,” he said. “We do have a couple of players that are in the Jupiter area that are coming in ... for their medical rehab treatment.
“It’s not business as usual. It’s very quiet.”
Among those who have been getting treatment is righthander Miles Mikolas. He is recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm and lives in Jupiter. Mozeliak said that Mikolas was “doing better” and is due for a light bullpen session in the near future.
Lefthander Brett Cecil, who suffered a torn hamstring in the Cardinals’ next-to-last exhibition game, had to shut down his rehab briefly because of a personal matter, Mozeliak said. But Mozeliak added that Cecil should be back in rehab mode next week.
The minor leaguers long ago had been sent out of Jupiter although Mozeliak said that 17 Venezuelan minor leaguers who were not permitted to return to their country have relocated to the Dominican Republic, “which we thought was going to be a short-term solution,” Mozeliak said.
“Unfortunately, they are still in the D.R. But the good news is that at our academy we can give them their own private rooms. They’re medically checked each day and given meals and they have the ability to walk around and get fresh air.
“The one scary part for them is a lot of them would like to find a way to get home. Right now, there is a very limited number of flights going from the D.R. to Venezuela. We want to make sure these guys don’t feel like they’re in some form of a penalty box but at least they’re able to eat, they have a healthy environment and right now a safe environment.”
Mozeliak said that the club is trying to find a way to help Delaware North employees, who are not Cardinals employees but who work as concessions workers at Busch Stadium. Many Delaware North employees nationally have been laid off.
“We are working through that internally to see how we can reach the most people that need it the most,” Mozeliak said. “There’s a lot of smart people trying to determine what that looks like. At some point, we’ll have an announcement. But, clearly, tough times for a lot of people.”
The Cardinals have committed to paying their full-time employees through the end of April. “In terms of after that, it’s something that we’re looking at,” Mozeliak said. “We’re trying to look at what the landscape is going to look like, not only in St. Louis, but throughout the league.
“I try to talk to as many employees as I can just because, for them, there’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s some fear. Just trying to allow them to take a deep breath and that things will be OK.”
Mozeliak noted that the coaches and minor league managers and staffs are paid over 12 months and also are considered full-time employees.
How many games?
“Our intention is to play as many games as possible," Mozeliak said. "Our fingers are crossed that it’s still 162. You don’t want to press too much on the optimistic button, but there’s still a lot of hope that something can be resolved.”
But when would it start?
“We just don’t know,” Mozeliak said. “Right now, we’re in an age of what information we should listen to or value and why complicate things? The No. 1 importance you always have to remember is public safety and fan safety.”
Asked what role he thought baseball should play during these times, Mozeliak said, “It’s going to be a huge part of our healing process. Creating that hope is what baseball and other sports have done forever. But, to have that going not only is part of your economic engine but it’s also part of the mental side of what people are dealing with. We’re giving people that faith in something. But you’ve got to prioritize everybody’s health in that discussion.
“That’s always going to be the quick balance of getting going too soon and waiting for that appropriate time.”
‘Kind of hectic’
Mozeliak said that “in terms of staying busy, it has been kind of hectic, actually. A lot of people are asking me what am I doing in my spare time and I haven’t had a lot of that yet. But, there will be a point where things do slow down.”
He said he enjoyed staff ace Jack Flaherty’s various lists on Twitter and he even watches a little baseball on television, like for instance, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
“When I hear it’s on and I’m around, I flip (the TV) on,” Mozeliak said. “Not a bad watch.
“Great memories, right?”