With players set to report to MLB ballparks on July 1 for a second round of spring training, local team officials are working to implement plans to both whip players into game shape while keeping them safe from COVID-19.
Like February-March spring training, there will be a crowd for spring training redux: for instance, the Boston Red Sox are expected to bring in 60 or so players on July 1 before cutting down the roster eventually to 26 players and sending the rest to a nearby facility designated for a taxi squad. But the process begins next week, when players are tested outside the ballpark and then placed into a 48-hour quarantine before setting foot at Fenway Park. If a player tests positive–and given what’s been happening across the sport, with more teams reporting positives for players working out at spring facilities–there will be a 14-day quarantine, followed by more testing.
To manage training for players testing negative, the Red Sox plan some short-term changes to Fenway Park to impose social distancing. Suites could be temporarily converted to extra clubhouse space, with batting pages set up in the concourses. Team officials also expect auxiliary bullpens and dugout.
Once play begins, the Red Sox don’t necessarily expect fans at Fenway Park that first day, but team officials expect to see fans in the stands sometime soon. When the current agreement between MLB and MLBPA was hatched way back in March, the expectation was the number of coronavirus cases would peak in early summer and then decline to the point where fans could eventually be allowed into games with proper social distance. But with cases on the rise nationally and local officials debating whether to reinstitute closing plans in states like Texas and Florida, nothing is yet assured for the beginning of play. From the Providence Journal:
Why should MLB try to return with coronavirus numbers spiking in several states? [Red Sox president and CEO Sam] Kennedy still holds a traditionalist’s view of the game, one that helped distract the nation from the horrors of World War II and played a part in healing New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The hundreds of millions of dollars available in television revenue were undoubtedly a driving factor for owners and players as well.
“I couldn’t imagine summertime without baseball, and specifically without baseball at Fenway Park,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully it can provide some small sense of distraction and joy and fun and relief for people who have been locked in their homes and dealing with this really difficult situation.”
In the Bay Area, the Giants are implementing similar changes to Oracle Park, per the San Francisco Chronicle:
For example, a training area is being created from beyond the bullpens and between the garden and player parking lot. It’ll have hitting and pitching accommodations along with weight, cardio and turfed practice areas, a resourceful way to use outdoor space and keep people separated.
Also, the Giants will make use of other rooms near the clubhouse so players and staff can spread out behind closed doors. During games, players not in the game can split up in the field boxes down the line.
“Walking the ballpark several times a week and discussing creative options for workouts, practices and intrasquad games has been motivating,” [Giants manager Gabe] Kapler said. “With no fans in the stadium, we’ll have plenty of opportunity to make use of areas we wouldn’t normally have access to that will allow us to practice appropriate distancing while still getting our competitive workouts in.”
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