Rays take coronavirus precautions; Choi, Tsutsugo worried about homeland

Choi is asking media from his native South Korea to meet him outside the clubhouse out of respect to his teammates.
Tampa Bay Rays players getting ready for their Monday, March 2, 2020, game in Sarasota.
Tampa Bay Rays players getting ready for their Monday, March 2, 2020, game in Sarasota. [ MARC TOPKIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published March 2, 2020|Updated March 3, 2020

SARASOTA — With the coronavirus now having spread to Florida, the Rays on Monday started taking precautions.

Some were basic, such as an email reminding staff and players to wash their hands often and use sanitizer frequently.

Others were more creative, some players opting for elbow bumps in the dugout and even a toe tap on the field rather than high fives and fist bumps to limit contact.

First baseman Ji-Man Choi, who is from South Korea where the virus is more widespread, is going a little farther. Choi said he has asked media from Korea to conduct interviews outside the clubhouse out of caution and courtesy to his teammates.

“I just want to be cautious especially around the players,” Choi said, via interpreter Steve Nam. “It’s very important for them to have a great season. I don’t want to be affected by any of that, so I just want to take precautions for the Korean media.”

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Choi also said he will be politely limiting his interactions with fans, avoiding hugs and handshakes.

The coronavirus was a popular topic of discussion in the clubhouse in Port Charlotte before the morning workout, and again before the game against the Orioles in Sarasota.

Veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier was one of the Rays to express the most concern, worried that the virus could spread rapidly throughout the United States and take a massive toll.

“It’s very scary how potent, how contagious it can be, how deadly it can be,” Kiermaier said. “Golly, I hope the smartest people in the world figure out something to try to help everyone on the planet out. It’s scary. It is. …

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. People are being quarantined, people are being tackled on the streets to get the right care.’’

On the other extreme, some Rays, such as Tyler Glasnow, said they are not very concerned and felt that too much was being made of the threat. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” he said, comparing it to previous concerns over the swine flu.

Others, such as Charlie Morton, were reading up on the details and, in his case, having four kids, trying “to be vigilant and responsible at the same time."

Similarly, Brandon Lowe said, “It’s hard to not have any concern knowing what it’s done and how big of an impact it’s made worldwide, but keep yourself clean, take the necessary precautions into account and I feel like we should be okay.”

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Although too much information can be bad, too, Kiermaier said. “I’m just going off hearsay and what I’ve seen on the internet and what-not, and try not to look too far into it because I know how I can scare myself into things.”

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Players and staff were sent an email from head athletic trainer Joe Benge on Monday reminding them to wash their hands frequently, use sanitizer, wipe down areas in the clubhouse. “Basic stuff,” manager Kevin Cash.

And Monday night the team issued this statement:

"The health and safety of our staff, players and fans is of the utmost importance to us. We are continuing to closely monitor the situation and are in constant communication with our local authorities as well as Major League Baseball. As we have additional information to share, we will do so.''

Choi said he left South Korea to come to the United States in early January, so he was not at risk of being stricken and has not been tested. His mother and brother live in South Korea, but he said to this point their hometown has not been affected.

“I offered for them to come to the United States,” Choi said, “but the city they live in right now is not infected at all so they’re staying put and just being cautious.”

Yoshi Tsutsugo, who joined the Rays from Japan, where the virus has also spread, said his family, including his wife and young child, are also okay.

“I don’t think there are restrictions but I guess people will want to avoid going out just to be safe,” he said, via interpreter Louis Chao.

Tsutsugo flew to the United States from Japan in February and said he had to have his temperature checked to be able to make the trip.

Both Choi and Tsutsugo said their thoughts are with their affected countries and they hope progress on containing and eliminating the virus is made soon.

“Of course I’m worried,” Tsutsugo said. “So far none of my friends or family have got the coronavirus so that’s a good thing. But not only my friends and family, I hope everyone in Japan can get through all this smoothly.”

Said Choi: “I am very worried that this infection is not slowing down at all so I am worried about all the Asian countries, Korea, Japan, China, so hopefully this ends very soon. That’s what I’m praying for.”

The outbreak has led to cancellations of games in different sports around the world, and for exhibition baseball games in Japan to be played with no fans to limit crowds. To this point, no such action is being planned in the States.

“It would suck if it did get to that but it’s health first,” Brandon Lowe said, “and you’ve got to worry about the well-being of people before putting fans in games.”