VFL’s navigate COVID-19 curveball

Local Coronavirus Coverage

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – In a ballplayer’s career there are some benchmark moments like signing with an agent, getting drafted and heading south mid-February for spring training. VFL’s Zach Linginfelter and Garrett Stallings reached that last benchmark in early 2020 when they made their way to Tempe, Arizona to embark on their first full pro-season.

“It was pretty surreal when I walked into the locker room and you see your jersey in there and your pants and everything for the first time,” former Tennessee pitcher Garrett Stallings said.

The VFL’s, who had both been drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2019 MLB Draft, had been in Arizona for just a month before COVID-19 threw the world a curveball.

“We kind of hear everything going on, but we never figured that we would go home,” Linginfelter said.

On March 12th the MLB suspended spring training, less than twenty-four hours later players were being sent back home.

“A lot of things were hitting twitter and news before things were even being translated to us,” Stallings recalled. “It was kind of a weird time because if you put yourself in the shoes of the Angels or a different minor league or major league team you have to make some pretty tough decisions that you don’t really know the answer to.”

The return

There’s a day that looms in the mind of Linginfelter and Stallings as well as every ballplayer, coach, GM and fan across the county, it’s the day that baseball returns. It’s a date no one is quite ready to write down in pen leaving players preparing for a day that feels elusive.

“It’s really tough when you don’t know when you’re coming back,” Stallings said. “It’s hard to plan for that so you just have to remain positive and keep taking care of yourself.”

Even the typical out-of-season maintenance now a challenge with gyms and facilities closed due to COVID-19 concerns.

Linginfelter clocks time at a makeshift gym located in the garage of his Sevierville, Tennessee home. Stallings has a net and dumbells he bought at Dick’s Sporting Goods in the yard of his girlfriends Nashville, Tennessee home. On days when Stallings wants to do more than just keep his arm moving he connects with a family in Middle-Tennessee to emulate throwing with someone or a bullpen.

“I linked up with a baseball family through a mutual friend,” Stallings said. “They have a younger son who’s a freshman and an older son who’s a pitcher. I’ve gone to their house and thrown in their back yard. It’s actually worked out really well for me I’ve been able to throw with them and give them some feedback and information and it’s been great that I still have the ability to throw with someone.”

The Angels strength and conditioning staff has also tailored their daily workouts to home gyms.

“It’s actually really cool because our strength trainer actually put a bunch of bodyweight lifts on our weightlifting app,” Linginfelter said. “So he’s really keeping us updated with everything that we can do.”

But with twenty-four hours in a day and nothing to do but prepare a season with no start date, days have been full of additional stretching sessions and runs.

“I thought I had time beforehand, yanno when you get back from the field and you still have a few hours to do stuff,” Stallings said. “Now it’s a total change of perspective. I’ve got all the time in the world to focus on myself and my body.”

The last few weeks, and likely the next few weeks, are more about maintenance than development for Stallings and Linginfelter. They’re also key in realizing to focus on the day-to-day and how that can impact the big picture.

“There’s nothing you can really do to make yourself the greatest player of all time but you can definitely get hurt in the process with not working hard and not staying on top of your stuff,” Linginfelter said.

It may not be the spring they planned for, but they’re not alone in navigating that curveball.

“I mean it’s a tough challenge for athletes, but also everybody in the world right now,” Stallings said. “We’re all kind of in the same boat right now going through this.”

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