North Smithfield's Dandeneau knows staying sharp during pro baseball's hiatus is all he can control

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North Smithfield native C.J. Dandeneau throws off the mound during Wednesday’s workout session at All About Sports. Dandeneau was in the midst of his spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates when camp was shut down.

Does it mean it’s over?

“No one had said anything to us right away,” recalled C.J. Dandeneau, the North Smithfield native and righthanded reliever who was barely two weeks into his first spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates upon learning Major League Baseball’s decision to cancel the remaining preseason contests.

What about minor leaguers like Dandeneau? What was to be their fate as the coronavirus outbreak forced one pause after another in conjunction with the Great American Sports Blackout of 2020?

“We were still waiting to hear,” he said.

There was still some semblance of structure in place after the Pirates sent a practice plan to Dandeneau and his fellow Pirate farmhands. Show up to the club’s minor-league complex Bradenton, Fla. on Saturday morning (March 14). Enjoy Sunday off, which was nothing out of the ordinary.

“We typically have Sundays off,” said Dandeneau. “After Saturday’s practice, a few of us went out to play golf. It was 80 degrees.”

On the ninth hole, an urgent message appeared on his phone.

“They said everyone has to leave tomorrow. The Pirates asked, ‘Where do you want to fly into?’” said Dandeneau. “It was hectic … calling people.”

On Sunday, March 15, Dandeneau boarded a 10 a.m. flight that took him back to Rhode Island. The Pirates took care of every aspect of his travel accommodations – one less concern to have at a time when pro baseball players were looking forward to a new season starting in a matter of weeks.

“The Pirates are great in that they gave us a place to stay right at the facility. Basically it’s a hotel room for 2-3 people,” said Dandeneau. “They even provided us with rides to the airport.”

Now, your guess is as good as Dandeneau’s as to when he’ll head back to Florida for Spring Training, Part II.

“They’ve talked about an abbreviated spring training once this all breaks, maybe 2-3 weeks just to make sure the guys are ready before the season starts,” said Dandeneau, “but we don’t have any idea when that will be.”

Selected by Pittsburgh in the 37th round of last year’s MLB Draft, Dandeneau arrived at camp on March 2 – three days before the official report date. The early days of preseason work were highlighted by simulated games where Dandeneau would face hitters with no fielders behind him. Next, intrasquad scrimmages were incorporated as part of the daily routine.  

“I ended up throwing one bullpen, one simulated game, and in one intrasquad game,” said Dandeneau, noting that exhibition games against minor league talent from other MLB teams were scheduled to begin on St. Patrick’s Day.

Dandeneau would probably be the first to admit that he was spoiled when it came to gearing up for the season under the Florida sunshine.

He played high school ball at La Salle Academy and spent his college career at the University of Connecticut. Making do amidst a chilly spring is not a foreign concept.

At this stage, Dandeneau’s goal is to build off the foundation he started to lay in a setting where the palm trees swayed and daily outfits consisted of T-shirts and shorts.

Thanks to the Pirates setting up a training app that Dandeneau can access on his phone, the goal to maintain some semblance of baseball normalcy is available. All of the strength and conditioning work and throwing plans are updated daily with Sundays still serving as a respite.

“Guys are going to go about it differently depending on what they feel the need is for their body and arm timing-wise,” said Dandeneau. “As a relief pitcher, it’s in my best interest to keep going and try to stay in that competitive mindset.

“The biggest difference from going from the offseason to the season is that you’re no longer throwing in a tunnel or on a turf mound. All of the reps you put in during the offseason don’t lie when you’re trying to make your pitches better. Once it comes time for the games, your mindset is completely different,” said Dandeneau. “It’s more about getting back into a game setting … going out to compete and trying to get guys out no matter what you have that day.”   

Compensation-wise, Dandeneau has heard the Pirates are working on a plan that would provide monetary support while the season remains paused. After a strong pro debut last summer that saw the 23-year-old post a 2.56 ERA in 16 games between two minor-league stops, Dandeneau eyed the possibility of starting out the 2020 season in Low A ball.

In the meantime, it’s about alternating when to head outdoors and inside to All About Sports, the North Smithfield-based sports facility that’s managed by Dandeneau’s father Chris. One of Dandeneau’s workout partners includes Chris Wright, the former Cumberland High and Bryant University standout who returned home after his spring training with the San Francisco Giants was cut short.

“Us New England guys … we’re making do. We’ve had kids from CCRI and Bryant also join us,” said Dandeneau. “It’s definitely not normal by any means. The best thing you can do is to try and be as consistent as possible. You can’t afford to take a few days off because you won’t be the same.”  

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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