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MLB players union discusses opening season in empty stadiums, Angels' Andrew Heaney says
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MLB players union discusses opening season in empty stadiums, Angels' Andrew Heaney says

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Los Angeles Angels right-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney (28) pitches during spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

Los Angeles Angels right-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney (28) pitches during spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The Major League Baseball players union has discussed beginning the season by playing games without fans in ballparks just to expedite a return to normalcy, Los Angeles Angels pitcher and union representative Andrew Heaney said Tuesday.

"Baseball really shows why it's the national pastime in situations similar to this, in difficult times," he said in a conference call from his home in Edmund, Okla. "To me, that's when the sport of baseball flexes its muscles. I think that's something that, as players, we understand that too."

Heaney hopes baseball can provide that therapeutic effect again.

"Therapeutic is a little bit overboard but it can be really helpful for people in tough times, going through tough situations, to be able to flip on a game and see their team play."

Heaney confirmed what union chief Tony Clark said last week, that the MLBPA is "very open" to playing games in empty stadiums. Playing games at neutral sites and playing split doubleheaders are also under consideration.

Beyond representing the Angels on behalf of the union, Heaney is finding it difficult to stave off boredom. Nearly 20 days have passed since MLB was shut down amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and Heaney has come to a determination about his ability to cope.

"Situations like this," he said, "I'm not well-equipped."

Many people heeding advisories from the government to remain indoors are using the time to start a hobby or refine an artistic talent.

But Heaney?

"Not a whole lot to better myself, if I'm being real honest," he said. "Just kind of working out and watching movies and TV. Getting good at Monopoly, though. I guess that's something."

Nights tackling a list of top 100 movies and racking up Monopoly victories have not scratched Heaney's itch to return to his sport. He hasn't even been able to get into video games like fellow Oklahoma State product and temporary housemate Garrett Williams, a pitcher the Angels acquired from the San Francisco Giants in their December trade of Zack Cozart.

The only activity that has come close to quelling Heaney's appetite is watching videos of old baseball games, particularly ones that took place after 9/11. Heaney, 10 at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, grew up in a house outside Oklahoma City without cable. He manufactured television signals with rabbit-ear antenna and scraps of aluminum.

He has turned to those memories often in the weeks since spring training was canceled.

"I remember watching the Mets and Yankees in the Subway Series, (President George W.) Bush throwing out (his) first pitch after 9/11 and then that World Series," he said. "I've actually been watching those videos at night just kind of reminding myself how much I enjoy watching baseball and love baseball.

"I think those things have a lasting effect. And it always feels like - because baseball (is played) every day, it always seems like it's there when you need it."

Until a determination to start the season is made, Heaney will continue to cultivate his own routine with his wife, Jordan, and house guest. He met a newborn niece. He has enjoyed spring in Oklahoma, which he hadn't experienced since being drafted in 2012.

Heaney and Williams have also made use of the quiet street outside Heaney's house to play catch. They lift weights in Heaney's garage. They plan to find catchers to catch bullpen sessions through their college connections. They do as much physical therapy as they can.

Staying motivated has not been an issue. Occupying free time has proved more challenging.

"I haven't played a video game in probably like 15 years," he said. "We downloaded MLB: The Show. I played as myself. I'm horrendous. ... I don't play video games. I don't do art. I don't play instruments or anything like that. So I'm just kind of sitting here."

___

(Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.)

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

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