With teams reopening their spring training camps Friday — now, with the change of season, called summer camp — baseball’s Great Experiment of 2020 began in earnest. And as Day 1 proved, it will not always be a smooth ride.
Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels’ center fielder and three-time MVP, became the human face of the sport’s difficult plight — as it attempts to launch a 60-game season starting July 23 while coronavirus cases are still climbing across much of the country — when he acknowledged he still hasn’t decided whether to play.
“We’re playing it by ear,” said Trout, whose wife, Jessica, is expecting the couple’s first baby in August. Trout spoke to reporters via a Zoom call, as almost all interviews will be conducted this season. “I’ve got to do right by my family. … We’re risking our families and our lives to go out here and play for everyone. My mind-set is to play. I want to play. It’s just a tough situation.”
If anything, the initial batch of coronavirus testing data released by MLB on Friday was notable for the surprisingly low percentage of positive tests — 1.2 percent, or 38 positive tests out of 3,185 samples collected at intake. Thirty-one of the 38 positives were players; the rest were staff. In all, 19 teams had at least one player test positive. Those numbers, however, may not reflect positive tests recorded before intake testing, which began Wednesday.
Baseball had been bracing for higher numbers, particularly after similar testing in the NBA and NHL showed higher percentages of positives, and after an outbreak at the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., resulted in at least eight players, some of them minor leaguers, testing positive.
Players and staff will continue to be tested for the coronavirus every other day for the duration of the season.
When it comes to individual cases, however, baseball has decided to place privacy above transparency and thus won’t be revealing the names of individual players who test positive. But any player who was absent Friday without an official explanation from the team was widely presumed to have contracted the virus.
Among players in that category was the 2019 American League rookie of the year, Houston Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez. Manager Dusty Baker cited “league mandates” in declining to reveal to reporters the reason for Alvarez’s absence.
Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez was also absent Friday, but Manager Ron Roenicke said that was because Rodriguez had had an exposure to an infected person and was awaiting test results. Roenicke also said the team had “some” positive tests but could not reveal how many.
Across the sport, players reporting to their home stadiums encountered baseball like they had never seen before. Many players wore masks on the field, despite no league mandate to do so. Players stayed six feet or more apart wherever possible. Clubhouse attendants cleaned baseballs with disinfectant after use.
Inside the clubhouses, some lockers were blocked off to promote distancing, and where that was not possible — such as at ancient, cramped Fenway Park in Boston — the Red Sox took over luxury suites to serve as makeshift locker rooms, two players per suite. Those suites, of course, won’t be needed this season, which is expected to be played, at least in the beginning, without fans.
But it was Trout, both because of his towering stature within the game and his personal circumstances as an expecting father, who best exemplified the difficult choices being made on an individual level as to whether to compete in this atmosphere. Trout, 28, said he is having daily discussions with his wife about the pros and cons, and he will use the next couple of weeks to decide.
“This is our first child,” said Trout, who wore a mask through at least parts of the Angels’ first workout Friday. “I’ve got to be there [for the birth]. If I test positive, I can’t see the baby for 14 days. We would be upset. I’ve got to keep Jess safe. I’ve got to keep the baby safe … It’s a tough, crazy situation in the country and in the world. Nobody has the answers.”
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