Aaron Nola isn’t preparing for his seventh or eighth start of the season like he would’ve been in a normal year, but he’s been a busy guy lately between workouts, a little travel and his new initiative to help bar and restaurant workers affected by the shutdown.
Nola, who says he’s worn shorts and sandals all but two days during the quarantine, had stayed back in Clearwater for much of the last two months but recently took a trip back home to Baton Rouge, where he is now.
This week, Nola and Yuengling launched “Cheers PA,” a virtual celebrity fundraiser to benefit the Hospital Assistance Response of Pennsylvania and the hundreds of thousands of PA hospitality workers, bartenders and waitstaff financially affected by COVID-19.
The fundraiser runs through June 19 and includes unique prizes like a pitching clinic in the bullpen with Nola, a visit from Nola to your Little League team, a dinner with Larry Bowa, a tour of America’s oldest brewery and much more from Philly athletes.
Nola is a low-key, grounded dude. He recognizes, two weeks before his 27th birthday, that this isn’t just about baseball. There are millions personally affected by coronavirus, and the country’s unemployment rate is more than four times higher than it was in January.
“We wanted to try to help them out, try to get some jobs back,” Nola said of the service industry that Cheers PA aims to assist. “We don’t know how long this virus is gonna last, when a cure is gonna be (found). It’s out of our hands. We want to do something helpful for them and want a lot of people to get involved.”
When will Nola himself get to go back to work? That’s the $5 billion question right now and nobody has a concrete answer. The owners and players’ association are locked in a battle over the financial feasibility of paying players their prorated salaries while playing a half-season without fans in stands.
The players were under the impression that the March agreement guaranteed them their prorated salary based on the number of games played.
The league has countered that the language in the initial deal made clear that a renegotiation would be necessary if games could not take place in front of fans.
Nola is unsure whether there will be a season in 2020.
“I don’t know. I have confidence in the [players’ association] and the league office to do us right,” he told NBC10’s John Clark Wednesday. “It’s all gonna work out how it should. Our job, the only thing we can do is stay ready. We don’t know for sure when the season’s gonna start.
“It’s a weird time. … What we’ve all talked about and my mentality is it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared going into the season this year. When they do set that date, it’s probably gonna be a few weeks out until opening day.”
And when they do, a host of new social distancing rules and guidelines will be put into place to try to make the season as safe as possible. The scope of MLB’s 67-page report of guidelines is daunting, and it seems unlikely that everything can be enforced, but the league has to try.
One of those guidelines is showing up to the ballpark in uniform and showering back home or at the hotel. Basically, the more you can control the environment, the better this summer.
“I don’t think I’ve done it since I was 13-14 years old maybe, driving with my dad to the ballpark in uniform,” Nola said. “It’s obviously gonna be weird, but if that’s the safety of it, that’s the safety of it.
“It’s gonna be tough not licking your fingers on the mound when it’s chilly out to grip the ball. Not giving your buddies handshakes in the dugout, not being in the dugout with your teammates when the game is going on. It’ll be strange.”