Lloyd McClendon ’81, ’05H has spent 31 seasons in Major League Baseball as a player, manager, and coach, but the former Valparaiso University baseball standout had never experienced anything like the 2020 season.
Aspects of the game that had been constants for his first three decades were no longer unvarying during an abbreviated, pandemic altered schedule that began in late July. The natural buzz of the crowd was replaced by piped-in noise, and the jubilant faces of fans taking in the games were replaced by cardboard cutouts or empty seats.
“It was weird,” says Lloyd, who spent most of the season as the Detroit Tigers bench coach before taking over as interim manager on Sept. 19, 2020. “At first, because of the grind of the summer camp that everyone had to go through, just to play somebody other than your own players in intrasquad games was exciting. We had to find ways to stay motivated and keep going without having fans in the stands to uplift us on a daily basis.”
The MLB season appeared to be in jeopardy early on, when numerous positive COVID-19 tests by members of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins caused the postponement of games.
“It was very challenging to get through the season to say the least, particularly with the early outbreak,” Lloyd says. “The idea throughout all of baseball at that time was that there was a very good chance the season would not proceed as planned. The most important thing is the health of the players, coaches and everyone involved.”
The season did continue, with players, coaches and staff members across the league making sacrifices in their personal and professional lives to keep everyone safe and give fans throughout the country a form of escapism.
“The protocol was very difficult; it was ever changing,” Lloyd says. “We were learning more about the virus on a daily basis. In the end, we got it right. The protocol became even stricter as the season drew toward a rear, particularly for the teams that were still eligible for playoff berths. There were some coaches who weren’t able to see their families because of the protocols. That was very stressful and taxing on a lot of people.”
Lloyd, who previously managed the Pittsburgh Pirates (2001–2005) and Seattle Mariners (2014–2015), was elevated to interim manager for the final eight games after Ron Gardenhire retired for health related reasons.
“You never want it to be under those circumstances, but the challenge of being back in that chair rejuvenated me and reinvigorated me,” Lloyd says. “We had fun and the players gave me everything they had. We played a lot of one run decisions, and those are a little stressful, but it’s a good stress.”
The Class of 1998 Valpo Athletics Hall of Famer met his wife Ingrid during his time on campus, and both of his children went on to attend the University.
“Going to Valpo was a fantastic experience,” Lloyd says. “I valued my time with (former Valpo baseball coach) Emory Bauer, and what he taught me helped take me to the next level as far as being a professional. He was such a special man and we had a special relationship. I often think about him even now, more than 30 years after he passed away. He was that special in my life.”
A 1977 Roosevelt High School graduate and former Little League World Series standout, Lloyd credits Bauer’s persistence with his decision to play his college baseball close to home.
“I had a lot of different schools recruiting me, but nobody recruited me like Coach Bauer,” Lloyd says. “He was at my doorstep every morning bringing coffee to my mom. After about a month, she said, ‘Would you please tell that man you’ll attend his school so I can get him off my block?’ The rest is history.”
Lloyd currently resides in Valparaiso, spending much of his time playing golf and giving hitting lessons at the Triple Crown Baseball & Softball Training Facility. He is interested in returning to an MLB coaching position in the future if an opportunity is presented.