Houston Astros reliever Joe Smith discusses possible plans to start the 2020 season and his charity Project FRONTLINE, which helps hospital workers in need.
With MLB suspended until further notice, the dearth in overall content and the constant urge to return to normalcy have caused leaks of some of the proposed plans and discussions of how the game can return to play as quickly as possible without putting the health of its players and teams at risk.
Whether having all 30 teams compete in an Arizona biosphere, splitting the teams into the traditional Grapefruit and Cactus Spring Training leagues in Florida and Arizona or some other plan, there definitely won’t be a shortage of ideas offered up to the public. But as Houston Astros relief pitcher Joe Smith waits out the coronavirus at his spring home in West Palm Beach, Fla., he knows that keeping everyone healthy should be the top priority.
“I know they’re talking about a bunch of ways to get us back and playing,” Smith said over the phone last week, “but I just think safety is the number one concern right now for everybody.”
Smith and his wife Allie LaForce, a sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT and Turner and CBS’ coverage of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, are also concerned about all the doctors, nurses and medical workers helping keep Americans alive during this tumultuous time. So they’ve spearheaded an initiative called Project FRONTLINE, where a $20 donation would go toward purchasing a meal from a local restaurant and distributing it to a hospital worker in need. Earlier this week they passed their original $50,000 goal and as of Thursday are over $60,000 on their way to a new goal of $100,000.
Smith and LaForce are also trying to start a family, an issue they’ve been very public about over the years. And if LaForce becomes pregnant while MLB tries some unconventional approach to begin the 2020 season, that puts the couple among those at heightened risk within an insulated baseball community. Factor in some young baseball families and older individuals in front offices or on coaching staffs, Smith said, and you have a lot of individuals that may be susceptible to infection. And if something goes wrong in a tight or confined space, COVID-19 has proven to spread rapidly in those areas.
“I knew from the start of this thing that there was gonna be a bunch of different ideas thrown out there as to any and all ways to get sports rolling again,” Smith said. “And they’re going to go through them and vet from the owners’ side, the MLB and then through the Players Union side.”
As both sides participate in multiple daily calls, Smith and his fellow players get updated on what’s going on every Monday, he said. Not every idea is going to get leaked as a trial balloon of sorts, Smith said, with some plans quickly pushed aside.
“So good idea, bad idea,” he said, “I feel like they’re just looking for any avenue, as crazy as it may sound, to find out ‘would this actually be possible?’”
For now, Smith and LaForce are staying at home, enjoying this rare extended period they have together. And though they’re not quite Gerrit and Amy Cole yet, the couple is working on LaForce’s baseball abilities.
“She’s pretty good,” Smith said. “Allie can catch. The throwing though, I just don’t know where it’s gonna go.”
Much like his wife’s baseball tosses, Smith doesn’t know where the 2020 baseball campaign will end up or when the season will begin and conclude. But he’s glad the owners and players are in constant communication, trying to come up with different ideas for a situation nobody’s really encountered before.
“It’s a weird time,” Smith said, “because no matter what this country’s gone through, at least in my lifetime, sports has always been the one thing to bring people back. And right now we don’t have it.”