Normally, Josh James would either be heading to Houston’s Minute Maid Park or boarding a charter flight to the Houston Astros’ next ballgame.
But with the coronavirus outbreak putting a hold on the Major League Baseball season, James is spending a lot of time at his Florida home, trying to stay in shape.
James is also wondering when he and his Astros’ teammates can return to the field — and with fans in the grandstands.
“It doesn’t feel real, y’know?” the 27-year-old relief pitcher said in a telephone interview Friday. “It feels a little different because, at this time, we’d normally be in the season and playing. It feels different to my teammates as well, and I’m sure everybody’s itching to get back and playing as soon as possible.
“At the same time, we still have to look at our health and the health of everybody else. I might be speaking for everybody else — which I don’t want to do — but I’m sure that everyone wants to make sure we can do it safely, and have fans there and everybody be safe.
“But it’s been tough — it seems like it could be two weeks away, or it could be three months away. Not having a date to look forward kinda makes it a little tougher.”
James — whose father Ivan grew up on St. Croix, and his mother Tricia was born on St. Thomas — and the Astros were just two weeks away from their March 26 season opener against the Los Angeles Angels when the sports world was turned upside down.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted government officials — both in the United States and worldwide — to prohibit mass gatherings, and issue “stay at home” edicts as the numbers of people affected by the virus began to grow.
That affected sports worldwide, as well.
On March 12, MLB officials postponed the start of the regular season, as well as ended all spring training games; a day later, spring training was ended entirely.
Players were given the option of returning to their homes, remaining in their spring training cities or returning to the ballclub’s home city.
“We were worried about our families, and getting home safely to them,” James said. “That was everyone’s general concern.”
James opted to return to his home in Hollywood, Fla., not far from the Astros’ spring training facilities (which are shared with the Washington Nationals) in West Palm Beach, Fla.
And the wait began.
“I’ve been working out,” said James, who earned a World Series ring pitching for the Astros in 2018, and went 1-0 in three apperances in last year’s Series loss to the Nationals.
“I don’t need much time; when the time comes, I’m not going to be rushing to get ready, because I’m going to be ready. It’s tough to simulate the game atmosphere, but I’ve been blessed to have played in some extremely big games in my career already.”
He’s also been keeping in touch with his Astros teammates, as well as pitching coach Brent Strom, bullpen coach Joshua Miller and Houston’s training staff.
“I talk to the staff at least once a week, just to check in with them,” James said. “As for my teammates, I call each guy, and I try to spread it out. I talk to [outfielder] Michael Brantley a lot, I talk with some other guys. Everybody’s doing well, and trying to find ways to stay ready.”
There has been a positive — James has been able to spend a lot more time at home with his wife Gabrielle, whom he married in January, and 19-month-old Noah.
“Normally, at this time, I’d been traveling,” he said. “But I’m enjoying getting to spend all this time with my wife and kid.
“The routine’s a little different now, but I’m not complaining. I’m sad that I’m not playing, but I’m enjoying this family time.”
MLB officials, team owners and officials with the players’ union are working on plans to get the regular season underway — playing without fans in the stands, or playing all the games at the spring training facilities in Arizona are two ideas that have been floated.
James doesn’t care about the “how” — he just wants to know “when.”
“I just want to play baseball,” he said. “Obviously, I wouldn’t want to be away from my family for five months [as proposed in the Arizona plan], but if we had to do it, I’d have no choice but to go.
“I’m okay with whatever, as long as we’re going to be safe. I’m fine with whatever the other guys say. If our union agrees to something like that, they’ve done their research and think that’s the best possibility, then I trust in them.”