Former UCSB standout and current Cleveland Indians All-Star pitcher Shane Bieber was getting ready for the upcoming season with his teammates in spring training.
Then the coronavirus decided to throw a major league curveball that put everything on the shelf.
The Major League Baseball season was supposed to have started already. In fact Bieber, who won 15 games during his second season with the Indians last year, would have already made two starts by now. Instead, the talented right-hander has moved back to Santa Barbara, temporarily, where he is sharing a place and working out with former Gaucho teammate and Cleveland farmhand Kyle Nelson.
They, like the rest of the world, are in a holding pattern when it comes to work and life.
“I was going stir crazy just a little bit in Arizona once everything started to happen and unravel,” Bieber said. “Once they shut the complex down and basically told everyone to go home … I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’
“Once they kind of told us to all head back home, we decided that Santa Barbara was the place for us. Obviously, it’s a great place to lay up. I rented a spot with Nelly, and that way we’re able to get our throwing in together and try to make the most of the situation.”
Bieber and Nelson, who helped lead UCSB to the 2016 College World Series, are training wherever they can these days in anticipation of the phone call that sends them back to work.
“We can’t go to UCSB, they shut that down,” Bieber said. “We’re finding local parks and little areas to play catch. We’re not always able to stretch it out and play long toss, but at the very least we’ll get into 60 or 70 feet and be able to throw our pitches to each other and work on our pitches.”
Bieber made his major league debut on May 31, 2018 — his 23rd birthday. He went on to have a tremendous rookie campaign by registering 11 wins that helped lead Cleveland to the postseason.
His 2019 season consisted of a 15-8 mark and being named the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player.
Bieber was ready to go this season when everything came to a sudden halt.
“I was definitely ready,” he said. “I was getting to that point in spring training where everything was feeling really good. I built up to 80 pitches and kind of had four or five pitches working for me. I was really excited to get the season going.
“Obviously, there are bigger things at play here, so I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself, but it’s unfortunate. It’s a crazy time, overall. I was feeling really good, but at the same time, people are going through much worse all around the country and around the world. It kind of helps keep things in perspective. Eventually, I’m not sure when, but we’ll get back to throwing the ball.”
If Major League Baseball has its way, that may be next month.
The league and the players association have been mulling over a plan that would include all the teams playing games at spring training facilities in Arizona, with no fans in attendance. It would also, according to reports, include players and other essential team personnel being sequestered in hotels, away from their families.
“There are some positives and some negatives that come with it,” Bieber said. “Just off the top of my head, some negatives would be that it seems like they’re trying to quarantine the guys in hotels away from their families. That’s just a tough, tough situation to get guys to really volunteer to do that for four or five months, especially guys with babies.
“I know a few guys around the league who just had babies, and all of a sudden they’re not going to be able to see them or help out for four or five months.”
Bieber also pointed out the role Mother Nature would play in Arizona in the summer.
“Obviously, posting up in a hotel for five months in the greater phoenix area where it’s going to be 120 degrees, that can be tricky,” he said. “There are some tough, tough situations. Not playing in front of fans will be a different experience, that’s for sure. But at the end of the day, being able to play some baseball, at least in front of cameras and get baseball on television, would present some sort of normalcy for the country, I guess. That’s a definite positive. I feel like people would embrace it and look forward to it.”