PORT CHARLOTTE — Pitcher Blake Snell wasn’t sure what to make of the new Major League Baseball-mandated precautions and rules the Rays were operating under for the first time Wednesday.
But he was quite clear he felt too much was being made of the coronavirus, despite the toll of deaths and disruption it has caused.
“I think the media kind of hypes up the coronavirus,” Snell said. "If they want to look out for our health, that’s cool.
“But I’m not too worried about it. If I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t. Either way it was meant to be.”
The coronavirus has led to thousands of deaths around the world and massive quarantines, plus a major reduction in travel and a long list of cancellations of entertainment events, conventions and games.
Snell, 27, said he understood the need to take some precautions, but indicated some changes, such as the media being kept out of the clubhouse and doing interviews in a tent while keeping a distance of 6 feet, seemed too much.
“I’m not really worried about it, so I don’t get it,” Snell said.
Other players seemed somewhat surprised or amused to see reporters gathered under the tent adjacent to the parking lot, one asking if they “were in time out.”
But veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said there are serious concerns among the players as well.
“I think it’s very, very scary and you just hope we’re doing all the right things necessary to keep us out of harm’s way,” he said. “Everyone throughout the whole world, the same thing."
Banning media and non-essential team personnel from the clubhouse and telling players and staff to avoid signing autographs or making contact with fans are, in reality, small steps.
There are bigger changes coming, with some teams, starting with the Mariners, being told they won’t be allowed to play games in Seattle to open the season, and increasing talk that games that are played throughout the majors may be done so without fans.
“That would suck,” Snell said. “They bring a lot of energy to our games. They mean a lot to us. They make it fun to show up every day. So without them it would suck and it would be difficult. But we get it, just because it’s for their safety and for ours at well.”
Kiermaier said the unusual times call for unprecedented measures.
“We’re in an industry where everyone is obviously trying, our team, our organization is looking out for each and every player," he said.
“It’s wild to think about, but if that’s what it’s going to take then we have to adapt and be open with whatever is asked of us. There is no way around it. If it comes to that, then so be it. Obviously, we want to play in front of our fans and on the road. That’s just the way the game is supposed to be played. But we’ve never seen anything quite like this before.”
Veteran Charlie Morton said it’s obvious the virus is having a major negative impact on all aspects of people’s lives tangibly, as well as their “general sentiment” and spirits.
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So in that small way, he said maybe playing games even in empty stadiums can help, assuming they are televised.
“People are going to be relegated to their homes more so than normal, social sentiment is going to be negative, people are going to be fearful," he said. “Baseball is an outlet. When it comes down to it, we’re entertainers. People look to us to give them something to take their minds off of the negative things in the world. So I’m hoping we can still play and people can still watch and we can still bring if not joy at least a distraction."
Manager Kevin Cash acknowledged nobody is really sure what they should or shouldn’t be doing, and said the players are being made aware the media is “a big part of our job and that we need to be as accommodating as possible."
Kiermaier said he is trying to adjust to several of the changes. Monday in Dunedin, he reminded himself to avoid contact with fans, then signed autographs for some kids anyway. The day before, he went to church in the Port Charlotte area and was worried about looking bad when it was time to shake hands in the pews.
“I was about to make it real awkward with everyone around me because I’m not touching anyone, and thankfully everyone was just like, 'Hey, how you doing, peace be with you,’" he said, waving his hand. “And I was like, ‘Perfect.’"
Snell’s comments about getting the virus drew some negative responses on Twitter, and he clarified in a response that he would be responsible if diagnosed: “If I get it trust me I’d stay far away from humans...."
Plus, Snell said he does have some concerns for his family, which lives in the Seattle area, where the virus is more widespread and he acknowledged there are “a lot” of issues.
Snell offered to bring them all to Florida, but said they declined.
“I told all of them to fly out, stay at my house in St. Pete, I have an extra car for them and everything," he said. “They’re like, ‘No, we can’t miss out on work,’ and all of that. So hopefully whenever their work gets shut down then hopefully they’ll realize they should fly out. We’ll see though. They’re stubborn.”