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Rays to close team offices, send more players home, keep spring facility open for now

In the quick-changing environment, Major League Baseball is continuing to curtail activities in hopes of limiting exposure to the coronavirus.
With bats and equipment resting on the field in the foreground, Tampa Bay Rays players rest and chat between drills on the Rays' first full-squad workout at the Charlotte Sports Park on Feb. 18 in Port Charlotte. A lot has changed since then. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — As Major League Baseball continues to curtail activities at spring training complexes due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rays announced they will shut down their Tropicana Field team offices for at least two weeks to essentially all but security personnel.

Also, team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman shared a message to employees on social media, issuing a call for “aggressive action” throughout the Tampa Bay area against the spread of the virus in the form of increased social distancing.

“We don’t normally share our internal staff communications with the public, but in this case we thought it was important for our fans and community to understand how seriously we take this virus," Auld later told the Tampa Bay Times. “How our community responds in the coming days will have a material impact on how deadly the impact of COVID-19 is on our region."

Earlier Sunday, Major League Baseball sent a memo to all teams saying they should send home players not on the 40-man rosters, which in Rays camp includes nine with time in the majors, and that all non-essential staff should return to the team’s regular-season site.

Teams are still required, due to an agreement with the union, to keep spring facilities open for any major-league players who want to work out there informally, and to have a limited staff on hand, including medical care.

As a result, the Rays plan to have their Port Charlotte facility open Monday, though with strong recommendations from the league to not have players gather in “significant numbers” and to remain able to practice proper social distancing methods.

That may change soon, however, as commissioner Rob Manfred plans a Monday conference call to provide further updates to teams from medical experts. The Rays had planned to shift informal workouts to the Trop starting next week, but that now seems unlikely given the decision to close the offices and limit staffing.

Related: Yankees minor-leaguer in Tampa tests positive for coronavirus

Players on the 40-man roster will continue to get their $195 a day per diem for expenses not only through the March 25 planned end of spring training, but potentially until the April 9 targeted, but highly unlikely, delayed opening day. The non-roster players will get theirs through March 25.

Outfielder Dylan Cozens, one of the veteran non-roster invitees, said for now he will stay in the Port Charlotte area rather than head back to his Arizona home.

“Weather the storm," he messaged. “Wait to see how things play out; everything is changing rapidly so before I make a decision I am going to see how it plays out. Everything will eventually slow down but with things moving as fast as they are I think it’s best to stay put."

Pitcher Ryan Sherriff said he, too, was taking things day by day: “No idea what my plan is yet!"

The Rays on Saturday sent home the bulk of their 150-plus minor-leaguers, though will continue to provide them the $400 a week per diem they would get during camp, which was to run through early April. They and other teams were also instructed to send home players from their academies in the Dominican Republic.

Some Rays on the big-league team are also staying in the Port Charlotte area until they can move into regular-season rental homes in the Tampa-St. Pete area with leases starting at the end of this week.

The decision to close the team offices impacts about 260 employees at the Trop, and another 40 with the Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium.

In the memo, Auld and Silverman wrote “there is good reason to believe (the virus) is spreading rapidly throughout Florida. … Now is the time to take aggressive action to protect your household and to isolate yourself in service of us all. … THE NEXT 14 DAYS MAY VERY WELL BE THE MOST CRUCIAL of this pandemic in the United States."

They also shared advice and precautions they said their families are following, such as not allowing any visitors or service providers in their homes, stocking up on non-perishable food items, not going out to restaurants or bars or other social places, limiting trips to stores and maintaining a 6-foot distance with others.

Also, for a baseball fix, mlb.com has provided info on how to watch a classic game from each team’s history, choosing Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series for the Rays, which is available for free in the MLB Vault account on YouTube.com.

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