TAMPA, Fla. — Baseball used to be called the national pastime.
Now, unfortunately, the national pastime seems to be thinking about, talking about, worrying about, trying to do whatever we can about the coronavirus.
Baseball is not immune to what is happening around the country and the world. When the Yankees announced on Tuesday that catcher Gary Sanchez was not at camp because of what a team public relations official called “a little fever,” the question had to be asked:
Was he going to be tested for the coronavirus? The official said he did not know.
About five hours later, after the Yankees’ 4-2 exhibition game loss to the Blue Jays, manager Aaron Boone announced that Sanchez had “tested positive for the flu.”
Sanchez, who has been out with a back injury and now will be out until at least Friday, was not tested for coronavirus, Boone said.
“No,” Boone said, “because he tested positive for the flu.”
Spring training illnesses among players are not uncommon because of the close quarters they share. Early last week, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole was down for a day with a fever, but did not miss his start on Thursday. Sanchez was his catcher.
The Mets last week had to send players such as Steven Matz, Jeff McNeil and others away from their Port St. Lucie, Florida, spring training site for a day because of a flu-like illness. The players returned within a day or two.
Major League Baseball on Tuesday instituted a new, temporary policy in response to the coronavirus that did not permit members of the media and others deemed as “non-essential” to go into locker rooms.
The Yankees made select players and manager Aaron Boone available outside the clubhouse in a roped-off area. Reporters stood behind the ropes. Questions were asked and answered at a distance.
Cole, after talking about his outing against the Blue Jays, said he was trying to wash his hands more and touch his face less.
Giancarlo Stanton, after talking about his progress from a calf injury, said he thinks he’s always been good about practicing proper personal hygiene.
Zack Britton, the Yankees union player representative, said the team had a meeting with a doctor recently to go over the best practice to avoid the coronavirus. But, as Britton said: “In the past, a guy gets a flu in a clubhouse, pretty much a good amount of guys are going to get that. A cold, same thing.”
The Yankees are supposed to travel to Montreal before the regular seasonto play the Blue Jays in a pair of exhibition games before opening the season on March 26 in Baltimore. With international travel a question mark at the moment, it’s possible those exhibitiongames will be canceled.
With the virus spreading and things seemingly changing by the day, it’s possible regular-season games could be played in empty stadiums or even postponed. Everything, it seems, is on the table right now.
“A lot of it’s unknown, right?” Britton said. “I mean, I made the comment the other day that I’m not going to sign autographs. Then I went and signed an autograph. It’s just a habit. The fans come out to spring training to get that interaction. If I was a fan, it’s probably the best part about spring training, how close you are to the players.”
Very few players will come right out and say it, but some are probably not too broken up that media members have been temporarily banned from the clubhouse.
“I think it’s forward-thinking,” Cole said. “I think it’s a very aggressive policy. We need to keep everybody healthy. There’s the flu bug going around, there’s this coronavirus going around. I think, ultimately, if we can keep the players healthy, we’ll be able to keep playing.”
Cole did add, “I don’t think anybody’s really excited about it. It’s going to be a little different.”