Baseball, or at least a socially distant practice version of it, returned to Citi Field on Friday.
On the first day of formal team workouts during baseball’s restarted preseason camp, the Mets got a glimpse of what work during a pandemic will be like. And it was weird.
Players — split into morning, afternoon and evening shifts to minimize how many people are present at any given time — stayed six feet apart on the field as they stretched, took batting practice, played catch and threw bullpen sessions. Coaches, executives and other staff wore masks. A hand sanitizer dispenser stood behind home plate. Clubhouse attendants sometimes cleaned individual baseballs, one by one, after they were used.
This is the gist of the Mets’ routine for most of the next three weeks before the regular season begins July 23 or 24.
“It’s hard right now to be here,” Wilson Ramos said during a videoconference after participating in the first session. “But at the same time, I’m very happy to be here, doing what we love to do. I missed this. Missed being at the field.”
The coronavirus-induced changes were obvious immediately upon arrival. Anyone who sought to enter Citi Field, including players, needed to have their temperature checked and take a health questionnaire.
Because the Mets aren’t at their usual expansive spring training facility, the ballpark has been adapted to accommodate a spring training-style atmosphere. Mets players are using the home and away clubhouses and weight rooms, another anti-crowding measure. A bunting station is set up in front of the third-base (visitors’) dugout. Separate groups of players stretch in separate parts of the outfield.
Up to four pitchers can throw simultaneous bullpen sessions in the home bullpen and visitors’ bullpen and on temporary mounds set up on either side of the right-centerfield wall. A premium fan section just beyond the rightfield wall has been turned into an outdoor extension of the weight room, where players can ride stationary bikes.
“The No. 1 thing is the health of everyone here and that we’re fulfilling the protocols,” manager Luis Rojas said. “So the guys are able to go out on the field and we can focus on our baseball.”
Edwin Diaz said through an interpreter: “It’s a little bit different for us since we’re all together [normally]. This time around, we just happen to be divided. But at the end of the day, it’s for our safety. We’re just trying to get in the best work possible to be ready for the season.”
Underscoring the unusual circumstances, Ramos and Diaz said they left their families at home. Typically, players will bring significant others and children to their team’s home city for the season, but because of the coronavirus, Ramos’ family — including his 6-month-old son — stayed in Florida and Diaz’ family stayed in Puerto Rico.
“That decision was made as a family,” Diaz said. “The fact that my family has been in Puerto Rico and they haven’t really suffered through any of the coronavirus situation, I figured that it was best for them to stay over there and for me to come over here and be able to play baseball. But it was a situation where we all decided together.”
The Mets will do it all again Saturday and Sunday and all next week. In about a week, they will open MCU Park in Brooklyn as an overflow site, and some players will be transferred there for workouts.
For now, they’ll try to get used to this funky new routine.
“Hopefully the rest of the guys feel good to be here,” Ramos said. “I know we have to be separate, but at the same time, we have to be close mentally.”