ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The return of baseball during a pandemic means the departure of its classic nuances. Everything’s a lot more personal -- or less personal, depending on how you look at it.
A few examples: All hitters will now have to bring their own pine-tar rags and bat donuts to and from the on-deck circle. All pitchers will now have to bring their own rosin bag to the mound and use their own baseballs for bullpen sessions. Baseballs used in batting practice must be sanitized and cannot be re-used for at least five days.
There’s no high-fiving or hugs, spitting, or sunflower seeds.
And if you’re a pitcher, don’t even think about licking your fingers.
“It's gonna be tough,” Tampa Bay Rays starter Tyler Glasnow said Wednesday on a media conference call. “Like, I'm not gonna be out there, consciously thinking about not spitting and licking my fingers. If I do it, I'm sorry, like, I'll say it now, I guess. But I'm going to try obviously to abide by all the rules.”
It’s important for MLB players to follow health protocols in their personal lives too.
Tampa’s daily case numbers for COVID-19 hit a record-high on Wednesday with more than 5,000 cases.
“I think everyone understands that it's our responsibility to be responsible and not go out and do whatever, like meet a bunch of random people or just be exposed to a lot of different people,” Glasnow said. “I think we've all understood we kind of have to make sacrifices for the next however many weeks, two to three months. So, guys just have to go – it's gonna be basically just home, field, home … after it's all said and done, then you can kind of live your life again.”
Those sacrifices are more important when traveling for road games when players typically explore new sights and cities during their downtime.
Rays general manager Erik Neander said he’s had conversations with players about staying safe, but there’s no official policy in place for policing it.
“We have a group chat and a lot of guys have brought that up. Everyone will kind of send an article over of like people tested positive, just like, ‘guys we need to make sure that we're all just being responsible and not like going out and everything,' Glasnow said.
"We have to kind of sacrifice our free time in a sense to just keep everyone safe. I think baseball, in general, the culture is very much, kind of police yourself. But I know a lot of guys, veteran-type like Charlie [Morton] and a bunch of people have reached out to make sure that we're being safe.”
The Rays have hosted voluntary workouts at Tropicana Field over the past month. About half of the team stayed in town and participated.
Neander said no players or coaches have tested positive for COVID-19, but a few employees within the organization have.
“It’s a small number,” Neander said. “We followed all the protocols and everything that we needed to do from a CDC/MLB standpoint. Thankfully the outcomes have all been very favorable.”
Neander did not name those who had been affected “out of an abundance of respect to the privacy of staff, players, etc., not going to elaborate any further on that.”
After months of embarrassing negotiations between the MLB and MLBPA, Rays manager Kevin Cash said the squad is ready to report to spring training 2.0 on July 1.
“It was certainly a positive vibe in the air today,” Cash said. “Genuine excitement. We know what's been taking place publicly over the last month, and I don't think anybody's been overly excited by it. But today, there was some excitement and smiling faces.”
Players are allowed to opt-out of playing the season if they have health and safety concerns for themselves or their family members. Both Neander and Glasnow said they haven’t heard from any players who will be exercising that right.
Team members will be tested every other day for the coronavirus, but Glasnow, the Ray’s player representative to the union, said team members wanted it done daily.
“We kind of have to trust the experts on it and I think on both sides they said every other day is going to be enough,” he said. “So, we just have to wait and see, and if everyone follows the rules and does what they need to do, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
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