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Mets shut down minor-league camp amid coronavirus concerns

A general view of Clover Park prior to

A general view of Clover Park prior to a spring training game between the Cardinals and the Mets on March 4, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Joel Auerbach

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — More hints emerged Sunday that baseball will not return soon.

The coronavirus pandemic, as it relates to Major League Baseball, seemed to grow more dire as additional Mets players decided to leave spring training and the organization completely shut down minor-league camp — two new developments that became the norm across the sport in a matter of hours as a result of new guidelines from MLB.

For the Mets, that was a departure from their loose plans just a day earlier, underscoring the fluidity and unpredictability of MLB’s coronavirus-induced hiatus. The Mets and other teams are shifting based on what MLB and the MLB Players Association agree upon.

On Saturday, a source said “a high majority” of Mets players were expected to remain in Port St. Lucie and work out at the Clover Park facility, one of three options available to them (along with going to New York or going to their offseason home) after negotiations between MLB and the union.

On Sunday, that no longer appeared to be true as MLB officials told teams they strongly discouraged group activities — including on-field workouts — until further notice. That is in an effort to adhere to so-called social distancing practices, which public health officials say slows the spread of the virus.

Specific numbers of Mets staying or going were not clear Sunday. MLB is expected to offer additional recommendations and information Monday.

On the minor-league side, the Mets closed camp, sending most of the 200-plus players there home. On Saturday, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen seemed to hint that that might be the case when he said the Mets were “taking seriously” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s suggestion that Florida cancel all gatherings of 250 or more people. A normal day in minor- league spring training includes at least that many people.

The Mets are paying for those players’ travel home, a team spokesman said. They also will receive their daily allowance through the original end of spring training (early April).

It is not clear, however, if minor-leaguers still will be given their salaries come April. Minor-leaguers are paid only during the season, April through late August or September, and not during the offseason or spring training. With MiLB Opening Day delayed indefinitely from its initial April 9 date, these players — a vast majority of whom received small signing bonuses when they entered pro ball — don’t know when their next paycheck will come.

On social media, meanwhile, the Mets showed their cabin fever, Port St. Lucie-style. Jeff McNeil, Daniel Zamora and others played Monopoly one night and went bowling the next. (McNeil made sure to note that he won both activities.) Noah Syndergaard showed off his stocked-up refrigerator and cupboards. Edwin Diaz played a baseball video game — playing as himself — with his son.

All that capped a five-day stretch in which the Mets’ attitude — and the country’s attitude — toward the coronavirus became significantly more serious.

On Tuesday, the first day reporters and nonessential team staff were banned from the clubhouse, nobody with the Mets seemed outwardly worried. Players were asked about the possibility of beginning the season in empty ballparks (not the more severe now-reality that the season has been delayed indefinitely). They were told in a team meeting to wash their hands thoroughly and often. The habitual act of a high-five became a source of hesitation and laughs.

“You don’t want that, but I’m not scared,” Robinson Cano said. “It is what it is. If you get it, you get it. You can’t live with that in your mind every day. You just hope nobody gets it, hope it goes away soon and we don’t have to deal with this anymore.”

Said Brandon Nimmo, “This is a strange time right now.”

And it has gotten even stranger since.

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