Last March, Ross Stripling stood alongside David Freese, A.J. Pollock, Brock Stewart and Mark Washington in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse at Camelback Ranch as they formed a 3 Doors Down cover band and performed “Kryptonite.” Clayton Kershaw then joined the group for an encore performance.
Nearly one year to the day removed from that lighthearted moment, Major League Baseball was forced to cancel remaining 2020 Spring Training games and delay the start of the season because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Dodgers have since closed Camelback Ranch at least until the first week of April and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the sport. The unprecedented situation has surprised many, even Stripling, despite prior knowledge as a licensed stockbroker of the coronavirus spreading.
“I feel like I had a feeling about the coronavirus maybe a little bit earlier, because I definitely follow the Chinese market and it was starting to really hit their stock market and economy in general,” he told DodgerBlue.com in an exclusive interview.
“Which obviously affects us; they’re one of the biggest economies in the world. So that was when it was brought to my attention, and that was before Spring Training. And then when we got to Spring Training, there were whispers about it and kind of hearing cases growing in China and shutting down their economy and all that.
“People were wondering if it was coming over this way. We had our first couple cases in the U.S. and that cruise ship that got stuck, and within a few days (of opening camp) we had our main team doctor and Stan Kasten come into the locker room to run down what the deal is with the coronavirus.
“At that point we weren’t even asking questions like would we play in front of zero fans or anything like that. It was kind of just wash your hands, this is a version of the flu kind of stuff. Every day it just seemed to get more and more serious. Now obviously we are where we are.”
MLB was not first to act, as the NBA suspended its season in the immediate aftermath of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for coronavirus. The NHL and MLS followed suit, and NCAA cancelled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and other spring sports.
“I don’t think we really thought it would come to this,” Stripling conceded. “The few days before baseball was really put on hiatus, there was a lot of talk around the NBA, where LeBron said he wouldn’t play in front of zero fans.
“I was actually watching the Mavericks game where Marc Cuban found out basketball was going to get suspended. You saw that big reaction he had that went viral on social media. I was watching with Kyle Farmer and he asked if I thought that would happen in baseball and I said, ‘I don’t think so, man. I think maybe play in front of no fans but there’s no way we put baseball on hold.’
“Forty-eight hours later I woke up thinking I had four innings against the Cubs, and by the end of that day, baseball was suspended. It happened really fast.”
Stripling weighed his options of remaining in Arizona or heading to Los Angeles before deciding on returning to Houston with his wife Shelby. Texas has not enacted the same stay at home order California has in place, as Gov. Greg Abbott has left it on local officials to make such a decision.
Stripling nonetheless remains somewhat limited with his options to workout due to social distance suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“At first we thought it was just a couple weeks, so it was like, I’ve got to stay off the mound, I’ve got to stay built up,” he explained.
“Then all of a sudden we’re on basically a no more than 10 people at a time for eight weeks, which puts that into the middle of May, which means another Spring Training can’t start until May. That means you’re almost not looking at Opening Day until June at some point.
“Now it’s basically like it’s early January of an offseason, so it’s back to getting big and strong and staying in shape. You’re throwing off the mound a little bit but it’s not your top priority. You’re basically just trying to stay in shape and we’re all waiting for a phone call to get some more information. As of now we really don’t know anything, so it’s just kind of stay the course like a normal offseason.”
The offseason is when Stripling historically works as a stockbroker, but the current climate has him wearing both hats. “This is where money managers are paid to do their job. It’s easy when everything is going up,” he said.
“Times like this is when you’ve got to be able to call your clients, explain to them what’s going on and be able to stay levelheaded. A lot of people in our locker room, clients in general and friends that know I follow the market, are texting me wondering what’s going on. These are unprecedented times. We’ve never fallen this sharply from all-time highs.
“We’ve lost over 30% in three weeks; that’s never happened. Even back in 2008. What we’re seeing right now is a lot of people trade on emotion because we don’t have a lot of facts. We don’t really know how this is going to affect our economy yet, because most companies haven’t come out with earnings, stats and things like that as of yet. So a lot of people are just trading on emotion. After you just go through a 10-year bull market, which means it was basically up for 10 straight years, a lot of people are starting to take their profits over that span.”
The layoff has allowed Stripling to continue with his role as a co-host of “The Big Swing” podcast, and even venture into some writing as he recently suggested shows for fans to stream.
Despite “Love is Blind” being one of the more highly-rated series on Netflix, Stripling, a self-proclaimed “reality TV guy,” was not sold. “Just is not for me,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know if it was the cast, the idea or what, but it was not for me.”
Fortunately, all continues to go well with podcasting.
“The podcast is a good way to keep fans, baseball fanatics and sports fanatics, excited right now. There’s kind of nothing to look at and no sports to watch. So that is something I’m focusing on,” Stripling said.
“I’ve got some good interviews lined up with some Major Leaguers who are willing to try and put out some content and keep people excited about baseball during this time. I’m a busy body by nature and the podcast is a good outlet for some stuff.
“I started writing but it’s tough. I definitely applaud you for doing that for a living, but it’s fun, it’s a good outlet and we’ll keep it going during this downtime. Obviously hoping baseball comes back sooner rather than later.”
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