BOZEMAN – Crazy and uncertain and perhaps even unnerving at times, yes, but for Caleb Frare the start of 2020 also has been, in a word, “Awesome.”
Less than a year after Frare’s baseball career was shelved for much of the summer by niggling injuries and a freaky scooter accident, the heat-throwing left-handed relief pitcher from Miles City had found his groove again in two of his last three spring training games with the Chicago White Sox before COVID-19 shut everything down.
Oh, and this: On March 5, he became a dad. Shortly after a strong outing against the Milwaukee Brewers in Phoenix, he was headed to a nearby hospital, where his wife, Danielle, would hours later give birth to a son, Michael.
“So my situation with the shutdown has been a huge blessing,” Frare said Sunday morning, about 15 minutes after changing a diaper.
On the baseball side, he was able to “get my feet wet” and see what he needs to fine-tune during his down time after throwing in only 32 games for four teams in 2019. On the dad side, he’s getting unexpected bonus time with Michael and the rest of his family.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. That’s been the one great thing about being shut down – more time with my son.”
Of course, like the rest of America, Frare is eager for baseball to resume, which is a possibility in some form by July, according to reports Saturday.
After the unforgettable high of getting his first call-up to the Major Leagues in September 2018 – and going 1-2-3 in his first inning of relief – Frare has dealt with mechanical inconsistencies and injuries.
Frare, 26, pitched in 11 games for the White Sox in 2018, striking out nine in seven innings but also walking four and giving up six hits en route to a 5.18 earned-run average. Last year, he was limited to five games with the Sox, fanning three in 2.2 innings but also walking four while fashioning a 10.13 ERA.
Frare didn't fare much better at Class AAA Charlotte, where his statistics were emblematic of his consistency issues: He struck out a whopping 34 hitters in 22.1 innings but also walked 19 and hit three batters.
Initially the White Sox didn't tender a contract. A day after that announcement in December, they resigned him to a pact that didn't guarantee a spot on the 40-man roster but included an invitation to their Major League camp.
It was a quirky and lost summer, one Frare would just as soon forget after years of dominant pitching.
Early in the year he pulled a groin tossing a ball into a bucket in batting practice – “a weird little freak accident; it wasn’t like I was being dumb or anything,” he said. After several weeks off, he returned but realized in trying to guard his lower body against further injury he was over-taxing his upper body, resulting in a tricep strain.
During three more rehab weeks on the injured list he was in a crosswalk on a scooter when a car hit him.
“The guy didn’t see me and he just drilled me,” Frare said. “Nothing ended up happening. It was just one of those little freak things that delayed rehab for another week.”
He returned one more time but he said his arm “just didn’t feel right”. This time: a flexor strain. He managed to throw a few solid innings in the Arizona League before shutting down for the summer, eager for a regenerative offseason and a reboot in 2020.
In his first two spring training appearances, Frare was roughed up by the Cleveland Indians while dusting off the rust. Against the Brewers in the next two, he felt like the old Caleb Frare.
“It was phenomenal,” he said. “I had timing, everything was working. It was how it should be again. The next game against the (Kansas City) Royals didn’t go too well, but that’s baseball.”
It was after the second game against the Brewers in Phoenix on March 4 that Frare showered and received a message from Danielle: We’re going to the hospital.
The original plan was to induce Michael on his later due date. But that morning a doctor called Danielle, whom Caleb married in December 2018 three months after his Major League debut, and told her it was time.
“She let me go to the field without knowing,” Frare said with a chuckle. “I’m out there pitching, her mom’s coming in, and they all know we’re going to be induced that day. I have no clue.”
Six days later, Frare was reassigned to the team’s minor league camp with four other players. After taking a day off, he and his teammates were told to return to their Arizona homes and wait for word about how baseball would address the coronavirus pandemic.
Already, things were different. No outsiders had been allowed in the clubhouse, including media.
On Friday the 13th, Frare received a text: Everybody go home.
“It was kind of surreal,” he said. “Something actually canceled a baseball season, just like that. It’s not canceled as of yet, but you could never imagine a baseball season being canceled.”
The Frares returned to Miles City, where Caleb is playing dad and working out solo every morning in a friend’s barn, where he has weights and a wall to throw against.
“It was kind of weird to go back to Miles City where I’ve trained the last two years and really my whole career, and it’s still kind of winter,” he said. “It’s still kind of like the offseason. But I’ve got a nice wall to long toss against and I can get all of my work in without seeing anybody, which is pretty nice. I’m very fortunate for my setup.”
If baseball does resume by July, with all the practical complications involved, Frare says he’ll be ready.
Major League Baseball is considering playing in fan-free minor-league parks. Frare anticipates that Class AAA and AA also would resume too, in part because when Major League players are injured they need ready replacements.
In the meantime, Frare said the messaging he’s received from the White Sox is reassuring.
“They liked what I showed in spring training,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re right on track to where you need to be’. I’m really happy about that. My objective now, being home, is I’ve identified things that’ll help me be more consistent.
“The biggest challenge from last year to this year, with that much time off, is learning how to compete while controlling the competition. So don’t overdo it but don’t under do it. That’s the fine balance.”
Frare is eager for a baseball jump-start and not just because he “absolutely” still has a love for a pastime that dates to backyard games of catch with his own dad, Mitch.
He said America needs it, too, after three l-o-n-g weeks in quarantine.
“We just need to get the baseball season going, no matter how it gets done,” he said. “If that means minor-league parks, if that means starting without fans … people are looking for normalcy, including myself. For families to be able to watch a baseball game, I feel like this is something the country could benefit from.”
In the meantime, Frare will continue to cherish the blessings of time away and strive for a different kind of balance, one between baseball and a son who turned 1-month-old Sunday – both rays of “awesome” in a time of uncertainty.