Baseball scouts return to the ballpark after COVID 19 pandemic decimates

PHOENIX — They have been gone for a year now, and as they’ve slowly returned this spring, they are greeting one another with fist bumps, knowing many in their business still are missing. It’s a loyal, close-knit fraternity in an occupation that’s becoming extinct, but they’re finally being seen again, congregated behind home plate during spring-training games in Arizona and Florida, holding radar guns, clip boards and iPads. They are baseball scouts. On the one-year anniversary after being sent home when baseball closed its doors with the COVID-19 pandemic, and being prohibited from scouting at Major League ballparks during the truncated 60-game season, they are back.“It’s been tough, very tough,’’ said Kansas City Royals scout Jim Fregosi Jr., “emotionally and mentally. When you’re a scout, and with all of the weird hours we keep, your friends are limited. Your closest friends are scouts and others in baseball. There’s not too many of us that know how to do anything else.“This is our livelihood, and there’s a fear there won’t be many scouts out there anymore, so being back is very emotional.’’The scouting industry has drastically shrunk in the last year, with about 20% of professional scouts laid off since the start of the pandemic. There still are 13 teams who don’t plan to scout Major League Baseball games in person this year, even at the Class AA and Triple-A level. The guidelines distributed by MLB to clubs this week, and obtained by USA TODAY Sports, prohibit more than one scout per team at games this year, and are providing only a minimum of six scout seats behind home plate.“It’s brutal, we feel like we’re on an island anyways, but it’s so tough to see,’’ said former major league outfielder Mitch Webster, a scout with the Royals.“You’re still hearing about some clubs having layoffs and pay cuts even with the fans coming back.’’Says Minnesota Twins scout Ken Compton, a 33-year veteran: “We’re asking each other all of the time, have you seen so-and-so? Has anyone talked to him? Does he still have a ob. A lot of guys have been let go that we broke in with, and they’ve been scrambling.’’Scouts are hoping, maybe dreaming, there will be a renaissance of some sorts with the industry. They weren’t permitted inside ballparks until the postseason last year, relegated to scouting games off TV and video in their living room. Please, don’t try to tell them it was the same.“Technology has done a lot of good things in the game,’’ says Philadelphia Phillies special assignments scout Craig Colbert, “but to watch the games live, and being in a ballpark, you can pick up so much more stuff. It just keeps you more attuned than just staring at a TV or video. It raises your awareness.’’Doug Melvin, the former general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers, says he never would have had his success – a two-time executive of the year and inductee of the Canadian Hall of Fame – without relying on the information provided from scouts.

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