The routine has changed.
“That’s baseball. It’s so routine-oriented,” Grand Junction Rockies manager Jake Opitz said earlier this week. “We wake up, we eat, we play, go to bed and do it all over again.”
Opitz still has a routine, but now it’s wake up, feed his 4½-month old daughter, Chloe, play with Chloe, put Chloe down for a nap … and do it all over again.
“That’s pretty much my day,” Opitz said. He and his wife, Katelin, had their first child on Feb. 5. Not long after, they packed up for spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona. The timing was perfect since Katelin was on maternity leave from the University of Denver, where she’s the associate head volleyball coach.
Once training camps were shut down March 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Opitz family headed back to their home in Highlands Ranch. Katelin is working from home, so when she’s making recruiting calls and watching video, Jake is enjoying being a dad.
They had a schedule worked out so Katelin and Chloe would come to Grand Junction several times throughout the summer, but that, too, has been put on the “figure it out” list, depending on what happens with Minor League Baseball this summer.
With Major League Baseball still hashing out when — and if — an abbreviated season will be played, none of the minor league players and coaches know what’s in store for them.
MLB has advised teams to find a training facility for a taxi squad of 20 players no more than 100 miles from their home ballpark, and clubs will need coaches for that group. Players on the taxi squad can be called up to the major league team in case of an injury or illness, a sign that the minor leagues won’t be played this summer, especially at the Triple-A level, where most players available to be called up are assigned.
There’s talk of an expanded Arizona Fall League for minor league players, so Opitz could be assigned to a team there.
“It’s like everything, it’s just weird times,” he said. “Who knows what these guys are going to do now? We’ve got them drafted and we’ll see what happens. You hear all these second-wave reports are going to hit in the fall. It’s just weird. It’s something we’ve never experienced before. There are no answers.”
Opitz has been the Grand Junction manager the past three seasons, with a 119-107 record. He’s the first GJ skipper to have back-to-back winning seasons (2018-19) and the Rockies were .500 his first year. Grand Junction lost in the Pioneer League Southern Division series last summer.
He had an entirely new coaching staff he was just getting to know when spring training ended. Pedro Lopez was taking over as the development supervisor after spending 12 years in the New York Mets organization; Helmis Rodriguez, who pitched in Grand Junction in 2013, was the pitching coach; and Trevor Burmeister was slated to be the new hitting coach, coming from the college ranks.
“I was looking forward to working with them,” Opitz said. “All my other guys got promoted. Ozzie (hitting coach Zach Osborne) went to (Low-A) Asheville, Blaine (Beatty) to Triple-A (Albuquerque, to be the pitching coach) and Andy (Gonzalez) is going to be a (camps and fundamentals) coordinator throughout the whole organization. … I feel good about that, I got them all promoted. We had a good thing going.”
All of the minor league coaches keep in touch, he said, through texts, FaceTime and phone calls, mainly to touch base and talk some baseball.
Other than that, for Opitz, it’s playing with Chloe and working out with his brothers — his youngest brother, Casey, is a highly regarded catcher at Arkansas. Casey wasn’t selected in the five-round MLB draft earlier this month and has decided to return to Arkansas for his junior year instead of signing a free-agent contract.
And then there are the summertime chores Opitz has missed out on the past few years. This is the first summer he’s been home since he was in high school.
“Honey-dos,” he said. “I did a lot of those before Chloe was born and now I’m kind of worn out on honey-dos. I just wanna chill. Being home for the summer, you find something to do. Oh, cut that tree? I didn’t know it grew that big in the summer.”
He did finish one big project, building an overhang in the backyard to provide some much-needed shade for the patio. That led to an interesting post on Katelin’s Twitter account, with Jake on the roof, spiking volleyballs to his wife on the lawn.
“Being home in the summer, realizing how hot it is here, we couldn’t even use our backyard,” he said. “We figured we’d put up an overhang and I was up doing the roof one day and she had a volleyball out and it just turned into let’s have some fun and play. Someone had a camera and she’s like, ‘Now I have a new drill for my players,’ and sent that out to them. Just finding ways to entertain ourselves.”
Chloe provides a lot of that, and her daddy is happy to be around to see her change every day. She’s developing a personality — “she’s got a little sass to her” — and prefers to be held during naps instead of sleeping in her crib, which can be problematic, but also provides Jake an arm workout.
He laughed when asked if he had his opening day lineup figured out yet, even though he was a couple of months away from even knowing who was on his roster when they left Arizona.
“Chloe is hitting one through nine,” he said. “And Chloe is my starting pitcher.”
She’s certainly got the wardrobe, with several baseball outfits, including a frilly red dress with a baseball heart on the front and “Opitz” on the back.
“She hasn’t been able to bust them out,” Jake said. “Katelin’s got some ready to go whenever this (season) gets ready to go.”