FORT MYERS, Fla. — Each day, Major League Baseball moves further away from a restart to its season as it comes to grips with the realization that the coronavirus already has infiltrated its ranks to some degree.
The Yankees became the first team to have a player — a minor-leaguer who has not been identified — test positive for COVID-19, according to general manager Brian Cashman. That prompted MLB to take a stronger stance against clubs hosting any sort of organized workout while the United States grapples with this global pandemic.
In a memo sent Sunday to all 30 teams, MLB called for an increased effort for “social distancing” and suggested that their policies with regard to containing the coronavirus remain in flux.
Federal officials said Sunday that they recommend that all in-person events involving 50 or more people be called off for the next eight weeks.
It’s become clear that the proposed two-week delay for Opening Day, rescheduled for April 9, no longer is a feasible date. Some are now looking at Memorial Day, May 25, as a possibility. Commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to have another conference call Monday to revisit MLB’s health protocols.
“The strong recommendation from our infectious disease and public health experts is that Clubs should avoid all activities in which players congregate in significant numbers,” MLB’s memo read, “or are otherwise unable to practice the ‘social distancing’ protocols recommended by the CDC.”
On Thursday, MLB and the Players Association suspended spring training and presented a plan that included three options: The first involved players staying near their teams’ complexes in Florida or Arizona with the opportunity to continue to work out at the facility, the second permitted players to return home, and the third allowed for them to travel to the team’s host city, also to use that stadium’s services.
That initial strategy left plenty open to interpretation, however, and those choices varied from team to team. The Yankees unanimously voted Friday to stay together in Tampa and practice as a group, presumably for as long as necessary leading up to the next Opening Day, whenever that might be. The Mets continued to have ongoing discussions about their plans. Other clubs, such as the Twins, immediately disbanded. On Sunday, the Marlins became the first team to officially shut down their facility, a decision made independent of the commissioner’s office.
MLB was going to stick by the original plan of keeping complexes open for 40-man rosters, if only so that players could have the option to use them, in accordance with the union’s wishes. Teams do not have to provide all the same spring training services, with the exception of medical care. MLB also mentioned that it was “actively working on” protocols to “minimize the risk” to players but said group activities should not take place at team facilities.
Like the rest of the world, MLB has been adapting to the coronavirus threat on the fly, and the positive test for the minor-leaguer was a wake-up call that stricter measures are needed.
Cashman said he’s taking his cues from Manfred and union chief Tony Clark.
“They’re doing everything in their power to evaluate and stay connected with government agencies and the CDC about what we should be doing,” he said Sunday. “And clearly, throughout the country, at this stage, all businesses haven’t shut down. It’s because they’re evaluating in a day-in-and-day-out, week-in-and-week-out, month-in-and-month-out basis, what should be done and what we should be doing as a society. And we are walking that fine line no different than any other industry or any other community.”