PHILADELPHIA — The news arrived Monday morning via a cellphone application used for internal communication: The game scheduled hours later between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Yankees is off, nobody can go to Citizens Bank Park, and stand by for further updates.
Concerned Yankees players knew exactly why. The Phillies had just completed a three-game series at home against the Miami Marlins, which had 14 members of their traveling party test positive for the coronavirus.
While Phillies players and employees were tested on Monday and the stadium was disinfected, the Yankees were instructed to sequester in their hotel in Philadelphia as they awaited confirmation that they would play Tuesday as originally planned. After breakfast, Yankees players met around noon to discuss the situation and reiterate the fragility of the season and the need to strictly follow health and safety protocols. Some plotted ways to work out or play catch inside the hotel.
This is the downtime of Major League Baseball amid a pandemic, as its teams — with growing worry from baseball officials and health experts — attempt to play a 60-game season in 30 stadiums across the country.
“You try to do your absolute best on an individual level to follow the rules to a T,” Yankees relief pitcher Adam Ottavino said Monday. “But it’s just a skating-on-thin-ice situation and I think it will be no matter what.”
While there were relatively few cases as each team had three weeks of preseason workouts at their home stadiums, this was always going to be a hard part for M.L.B.: teams traveling for games and entering hot spots like Florida, Georgia and Texas. The Marlins played two exhibition games in Atlanta before their three-game set in Philadelphia.
It is unclear when and how the Marlins got infected, given the virus’s incubation period of at least a few days. But the episode further drove home the message to the Yankees that reducing their exposure to the virus requires a large dose of individual commitment on the circumstances players can control.
“We’ve all got a responsibility to stay as safe as possible during these times,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said last week, “and what one or two of us do can affect the whole team or the whole league.”
To help prevent infections among players, coaches and key staff, the league — with input from the players’ union — instituted a 113-page operations manual for the season which includes details on how teams should behave while traveling. Among the many regulations: no eating at public restaurants, a preference for private airports, an empty seat next to each person on the team bus, and a private entrance, check-in area and floors at each hotel.
Members of a team’s traveling party should “avoid leaving” the hotel for “non-essential purposes,” according to the M.L.B. manual. As far as visitors at the hotel, the manual said that apart from “immediate family,” members of a team’s traveling party are discouraged from socializing with other family and friends while on the road. If they choose to do so, they “must adhere to strict physical distancing protocols, and wear proper face coverings and gloves,” the manual continued.
The Coronavirus Outbreak
Sports and the Virus
Updated Aug. 24, 2020
Here’s what’s happening as the world of sports slowly comes back to life:
- Strict rules and player sacrifices allowed Europe’s soccer leagues to complete their schedules. But the coronavirus hasn’t abated, and the new season brings new risks.
- The Western & Southern Open tennis tournament — long held near Cincinnati — has been moved to Queens this year, making for an unusual doubleheader with the United States Open.
- While live sports are back, spectators are not in most cases. Readers comment on what they were missing as fans in the stands.
Instead of arriving at the stadium many hours before a road game like usual, the Yankees (2-1) are doing so much later now and readying for a game at the hotel. Players said the Yankees provided rooms at their hotel in Washington and Philadelphia where they could pore over advance scouting reports, and get a massage or treatment — after making an appointment with their training staff — before arriving at the stadium. And, as allowed by M.L.B.’s rules, they had exclusive use of the hotel gym to work out.
“Being able to prepare and getting treatment at the hotel, it’s actually been great,” Yankees relief pitcher Zack Britton said over the weekend.
Instead of spending a day off doing whatever they wanted, like sightseeing or grabbing a meal or drinks, Yankees players said Gerrit Cole, the team’s new $324-million pitcher, and Gardner, the longest tenured Yankee, organized a steak dinner inside a banquet hall of the team’s hotel during their day off in Washington on Friday. Players said they sat at a distance and watched other baseball games on television.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to look going forward, but the biggest thing we’re doing is we’re trying to stay in the hotel and be safe and be healthy,” Britton said.
Before the Yankees departed on their first road trip this season, first baseman Luke Voit said they were all given a travel kit that included materials they could use to disinfect their hotel rooms. As another precaution, the Yankees brought their own clubhouse personnel from Yankee Stadium to avoid using the visiting clubhouse staff at Citizens Bank Park.
Yankees starter J.A. Happ, who was originally scheduled to start Monday against the Phillies, said on Sunday that the team was already falling into a pattern of good habits, including keeping their distance and wearing masks away from the field.
But this is an imperfect science. So much has to go right. Some players still high five and spit, which are banned this season. Teams are charged with policing themselves. Players not only have to worry about their own behavior but that of the loved ones around them. In the N.B.A., a few players have already been asked to seclude themselves after breaking the rules of its so-called bubble outside Orlando, Fla.
The Yankees have already had one positive case emerge since the team reunited in early July: All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said recently that 15 people who were around Chapman underwent daily testing for a week but no other positive cases emerged. Ottavino said that proved why the protocols beyond the testing are so important.
“But now this shows you how easy it is to spread,” he said, referring to the Marlins’ outbreak. “The real issue is it’s just so hard to know.”
Ottavino said the results of the Phillies’ testing will be telling. Two of their players — catcher J.T. Realmuto and first baseman Rhys Hoskins — were in the closest contact with the Marlins on the field given their positions. The Yankees were also tested on Monday, but at their hotel as part of their regularly scheduled every-other-day testing.
Until the Phillies’ results arrive and the Yankees learn what they will be doing on Tuesday, they planned to stay indoors and wait.