Joel Booker (Tom Priddy photo)

Joel Booker is quite good at many forms of contests.

Playing a waiting game is not one of them.

But that’s what the former Polk County standout is doing these days as he waits to see whether professional baseball will return at either the major or minor league levels this season.

Major League Baseball suspended the 2020 season on March 21, sending players home shortly after spring training began in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic. When, or even if, baseball will be played in 2020 depends in large part on ongoing negotiations between owners and the players’ union.

Throw in the fact that minor league baseball franchises are heavily dependent upon having fans in the stands, and the 2020 outlook for players such as Booker, who spent last season at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the Chicago White Sox organization, is extremely cloudy at best.

“My agent’s telling me that it’s all based on the big leagues,” Booker said. “Once they come up with a plan for them, then maybe they’ll think about one for us. I think they sent their proposal in (last week) and now it’s just in the voting phase.

“It’s kind of been difficult because right now, we’re supposed to be playing and just the fact of getting in that routine and that rhythm of doing the same thing every single day.”

Booker had been eager to return to the field after an adventurous 2019. He began the season at Double-A Birmingham and terrorized Southern League pitching, leading the league with a .351 average before earning a late April promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.

Booker cooled off in Charlotte with some adjustments to his swing and adjustments to the higher level of play, hitting .203 before returning to Birmingham. He finished the season with a combined .245 average, his lowest as a professional, with 19 stolen bases.

A hand injury in January that required surgery slowed his offseason regimen, but Booker felt good about his health and his game as spring training opened.

“I went down (to spring training) around the sixth of February and did the rehab, and I was actually a week and a half ahead of schedule for when I was supposed to report,” he said. “I wanted to hit live during spring training, but our directors wouldn’t let me. They said the two important dates are when you report and then the first day of games. They said we’re not gonna rush into it.

“Going through the rehab and going through the process of it, I kind of felt like my swing was a little bit better than it ended. So I was looking forward to finally getting out there and seeing where it went with everything.”

Booker survived a large round of cuts last week that swept through the minor leagues. Major League Baseball’s tentative restart proposal includes an 82-game season with spring training beginning in mid-June. The framework includes plans for a 30-man active roster and a 20-man taxi squad, and Booker has been working out daily with hopes of getting a shot to be one of those 50 players for the White Sox.

He’s been combining those daily sessions with a bit of hitting instruction with Polk County senior Nick Capozzi, who recently signed with Gardner-Webb, and Wolverine head baseball coach Billy Alm.

“Being back home it was kind of nice just to have Coach Alm and Nick, because I had someone to hit with every day,” Booker said. “Plus I viewed it like when I was in high school and I went off to play in my junior college. They would tell me one thing to switch, and it was like a ‘I wish I knew back then that I know now’ kind of moment.

“So it’s been nice working with (Capozzi) and picking his brain and seeing what he wants to do and trying to help him home his skills and get a little bit better.”

And just waiting, like it or not.