On what should have been Opening Day, the pinstriped uniforms of the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies appeared in a different fashion. Two weeks after the novel coronavirus ground all major U.S. sports leagues to a halt, the fabric used to manufacture official jerseys for Major League Baseball will become protective masks and gowns for medical professionals.

Fanatics, the company that manufactures MLB uniforms, has halted production of jerseys at its Pennsylvania factory and will instead make these necessary items from the polyester mesh.

“When the country is in need the way it is, it’s our privilege and opportunity to try to chip in in a small way,” Michael Rubin, the founder and executive chairman of Fanatics, said in a telephone interview. “If we can save even one life, that’s better than making baseball uniforms and jerseys.”

Rubin doesn’t watch television apart from live sports, but in the absence of games, he has let CNN fill that void. On March 17, he heard about the shortages of tests, respirators and everyday supplies that have created challenges for health-care workers.

Rubin then woke up in the middle of the night, realizing the large factory in Easton, Pa., could offer assistance. He immediately sent a message to his colleagues, asking, “Can we turn Easton into a mask and gown manufacturing facility?”

With the help of St. Luke’s hospital system and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Fanatics designed prototypes by the weekend. St. Luke’s communicated with the governor’s office, Rubin said. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called Rubin after hearing about the idea and reiterated the need for the supplies.

Rubin said he spoke this week with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who supported the effort. MLB and Fanatics are fully absorbing the cost of materials and labor.

“We hope this effort can play a part in coming together as a community to help us through this challenging situation,” Manfred said in a statement to MLB.com.

These single-use masks are not surgical grade, and the fabric of baseball uniforms isn’t the ideal material, but they still offer basic protection. The coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets, so masks are essential for keeping medical professionals healthy.

The company began manufacturing the items this week, with a goal of manufacturing 1 million masks and gowns over the next couple of months. The early products have been made from the fabric of Yankees and Phillies uniforms, but Rubin said plenty of other teams will join the mix as the company goes through the materials it has.

Fanatics will start distributing the items across Pennsylvania in a day or two, with the hopes of extending the donations to New Jersey and New York. More than 82,000 cases have been confirmed in the United States, including more than 37,000 in New York.

The Easton factory was among the nonessential businesses that recently shut down, but Rubin already had begun working through this idea.

Hopefully, this effort “inspires other businesses to figure out how they can help to make a difference,” Rubin said. “At the end of the day, we all want to get back to some level of whatever the new normality is. I think, as business leaders, we can help to do that.”

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