Amid the abrupt bust-up of spring training last month, new Royals manager Mike Matheny circulated through the clubhouse in Surprise, Arizona. As many were seeking something even remotely relatable to this unprecedented phase, Matheny absorbed a notion of pitcher Brad Keller: "It feels like the longest rain delay in history."
To some degree, there was consolation in that semblance of the familiar. But Keller also meant it in terms of not knowing what to do with himself.
And as much as the parallel resonated with Matheny, it also clarified one of his own fundamental challenges over this limbo in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm the worst about rain delays," Matheny said in a recent phone interview. "I don't care if the radar is purple and it looks like the world is coming to an end.
"During a rain delay, I don't let myself go there that this thing is going to get called."
Especially after an episode during his catching days, when he had been persuaded a game was on the verge of being delayed. Instead of doing what he normally did during such pauses, like watching film and thinking about hitters, he started exhaling ... only for the game to be resumed.
He back went out feeling he'd lost his edge. He swore it would never happen again.
It's an imperfect comparison at a time when Matheny is cognizant of so much suffering and people just trying to survive.
But it does speak to the psychological battle that we all are grappling with in some way or another while waiting for not simply a suspended season to begin but the resumption of real life.
And it invokes a crucial question, particularly for the many who aren't sick, caring for those who are or standing on the front lines:
Are we just passing time to get to the other side?
Or spending it like it's precious?
This is different for everyone, and Matheny is the first to say that how he's wired isn't healthy for most people, and that it's about finding a balance — one he's striving for himself.
So that's what he's tried to impart to his players through online messages: Don't try to be peak level, naturally, but don't go into a mental hibernation and lose that momentum of spring training.
"Not to be overbearing on them, but also not just abandoning them," said Matheny, who was eager to make his managerial debut for the Royals on March 25 at Chicago and start this new chapter in earnest after being fired by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018.
Anxious as he is to get going again, though, Matheny is learning to embrace the wait and treat this as found time.
It's a perspective that at least in part stems from a profound previous experience dealing with a similar sort of void, something we'll get back to here shortly.
Most of all, he's appreciating time spent with his wife, Kristin, and family as almost never before, including having three of their five children living on site with him, constantly at home for once.
It's precious to be able to gather around a table together for meals. And some of their favorite time is when he passes a guitar back and forth with his son, Luke, the more accomplished player.
"It's not like we're sitting around doing 'Kumbaya'," Matheny said, laughing. "We'll stumble our way through kind of just the normal songs that people know the words to. So, it's amazing. You get just about any group of people together, they'll enjoy that."
While Matheny typically detests watching television and is far more apt to be reading books, it's also been a time to watch movies together. Screenings have included, or will soon, such personal favorites as "The Shawshank Redemption," A River Runs Through It," "The Sixth Sense" and "Gladiator."
"'Braveheart' actually goes above 'Gladiator' _ might be my all-time favorite," he said. "Check it out. See what you think."
This delay also has provided a chance to apply his carpentry skills in their new home in Lee's Summit, particularly in relation to a home gym he's fashioned in the basement.
"I'm one of those guys with a great deal of pride, (on) the negative side, that I feel like I can do anything if I ask the right people enough times," he said, laughing and adding, "If I mess it up bad enough, I'll bring in the professionals."
His approach echoes both what you might expect of someone with his intensity and inclination toward constant self-improvement but also a past experience that carries at least a relative application now.
Matheny's playing career ended in 2006 after one final concussion among what he believes were officially diagnosed as more than 30.
It took him 18 months to return to what he considered a normal conversation, Matheny said, a time frame worsened by his initial inclination to try to fight through it.
"I was terrible at slowing down, and that really kept me from getting better," he said. "It was kind of this Catch-22. 'Do I just back off completely, and then will I be able to get everything back that I need to to compete at this level?' And I think that's what kept me going more than what I needed to do.
"But, yeah, there's a great, great parallel there."
And some parallel to what he calls this "try easier type of thing" that might be a constructive concept for us all now as we are stranded at home for the most part.
It was during that time of frequent isolation that Matheny undertook a few activities intended to trigger parts of the brain.
That's when he learned guitar, which to this day he often takes on the road with him, typically "dabbling" in contemporary Christian or country music. He's playing it a bit more now and thinking about learning the piano in his home.
Told his interviewer can play the first few notes to a few songs on piano, he laughed and said, "I think that's what my goal is: to be able to have about two or three go-tos. Then I can sit down and make people wonder if I have a whole lot more in there ... but that's really all I've got."
During his recovery from the concussions, Matheny also rededicated himself to Spanish by getting on websites to sharpen his conversational use of a language he'd begun to learn in college.
Pushed by coach Bill Freehan, Matheny had taken a course concentration in Spanish as a student at the University of Michigan.
Freehan believed it would be an advantage toward Matheny's pro prospects to be able to communicate better with Spanish-speaking pitchers and suggested it also could help if he ever were to, say, coach or manage.
"Little did I know what a gift that was," Matheny said, noting that it helped him distinguish himself through the minor leagues and build rapport and trust _ something that players such as Maikel Franco will cite even now.
Then there was, and is, chess. Matheny keeps a board out on the patio, and his son Jake likes to play. But much of his time engaged with the game has been online on sites such as chess.com.
"You can set up tactics. And all tactics are is, 'Here is a problem, solve the puzzle,' " he said.
While he sees parallels to baseball, he also says, "There really isn't luck involved at all in chess: There's a right move, and there's a wrong move. In baseball, obviously, we have a lot of things that you can do right, but the right decision can work out completely wrong. And vice versa."
He added, "Once again, it kind of triggers a part of the mind that challenges us in ways that we normally wouldn't be."
Perhaps his broader approach is a particularly useful example at a time we're all being challenged in ways we normally wouldn't be.
"So you can either do something productive or else you just end up wasting time," he said. "And next thing you know, you look up and it's later than you want it to be."
Even as you wait for the rain delay to clear.