ST. PETERSBURG — There were some things odd about it, for sure.
Temperature checks at the door. Coaches and staff wearing masks, and players, too, except when they were actually working out. A makeshift weight room on the outfield grass. Six feet of distance, and zero hugs given.
“Definitely some things to get used to," outfielder Austin Meadows said.
But for the Rays, getting back to baseball Monday — with more than a dozen players taking the field at the Trop for their first team workout since the mid-March coronavirus shutdown — also felt welcomingly normal, safe and comfortable.
“I think they were excited to get back to something that was normal or (that they were) used to, given that it was very unusual circumstances," manager Kevin Cash said.
“A step in the right direction. And it was good to see some smiling faces."
Getting (somewhat) together with teammates, being back on their home turf with room to run and throw, and having some structure to workouts were all benefits for the players who came for the hour-long sessions, staggered in groups of two.
“Honestly, it was great," said pitcher Ryan Yarbrough. “It was so nice to be able to get back on the field."
Activities were strictly limited, as the Rays have maintained a cautious approach since the shutdown while some other teams allowed players to keep using facilities.
The Rays players Monday were allowed only to play catch, run, use free weights and do plyometric jumps and other exercises. There was no taking swings or ground balls, no throwing from the mounds, no access to the clubhouse or trainer’s room.
Cash acknowledged they were “baby steps," but said after similar sessions on Wednesday and Friday that team officials will consider allowing more activity next week, especially with given ongoing negotiations for a plan to open a second spring training in mid-June and the season in July.
“We’d like to see it evolve," Cash said. “If those dates are an actuality, we probably need to get going a little bit and start a more aggressive type of routine. I think this was a really good start for a first day and a first week."
And at a good time. Yarbrough said the opportunity to check in with pitching coach Kyle Snyder in person was assuring. Meadows said the the creativity players used to keep working out on their own over the past 2 ½ months has been waning.
Even for Meadows, who posted a series of entertaining videos to social media, lifting his dog for weight work, doing jumps onto his truck and out of his pool, hitting balls down the road and have his dog retrieve them.
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“It’s hard for us right now to find motivation to work out in our backyard or throw with our wives or work out with our dogs, per se," he said on a media video call. “It’s hard to do all that stuff and find that motivation. Opening the Trop is huge, being able to go there and find our routine."
Safety precautions were evident and obvious.
The players and small number of staff in attendance were subject to screening questions and temperature checks by head athletic trainer Joe Benge on their way in through a single entry/exit gate.
Masks were required. There was a hand-washing station just inside the gate, and hand sanitizer all around. Each pairing of players was given a set of baseballs to use for playing catch. Strength and conditioning coordinator Trung Cao wiped down weights and other equipment after each use.
(The workout was closed to the media, through the Rays did provide photos and video.)
Players said they appreciated the precautions and felt comfortable being there.
“One hundred percent," Yarbrough said. “Health and safety is their No. 1 priority and they did a really great job of it."
Cash estimated 14 players, all living local and on the 40-man roster, took part. Eleven were identifiable in the photos and videos: Pitchers Jose Alvarado, Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Brendan McKay and Yarbrough; catcher Michael Perez; infielders Willy Adames and Jose Martinez; outfielders Manuel Margot and Meadows.
The Rays resumed workouts as the negotiations to start the season are at a critical juncture. Owners are set to present an economic proposal to the players union Tuesday, and there is considered to be a rough deadline of a week to make a deal for the proposed 82-game season to happen.
While some players, including Rays pitcher Blake Snell, have said they feel they will be risking their lives by playing, Meadows said he felt comfortable with the proposed protocols.
“I hope they come to an agreement soon because we want to get out there, not only for us but for our fans as well," Meadows said. “We’ll take anything that we need to do, any precaution we need to take, just to get out there and play again. I think a lot of guys can say the same thing.
“I trust MLB, I trust the union just to gather a plan together to keep us safe."
The chance to be with teammates Monday reinforced those feelings about wanting to get back on the field.
“Just to see (some of the guys), it’s been a while," Meadows said. “It feels like it’s been a long time. Being able to get a change of scenery, talk with those guys, hang out, cut up, it was fun."
Even though it was, and will be, a bit different.
“It was good … but it was still odd,” Cash said in his Zoom media call. “I didn’t walk up and handshake anybody or give anybody a hug. Normally when you go that long without seeing them you’re probably doing that, so that was odd.
“But certainly respecting the situation and what’s at stake. We’re going to do what we’re asked."
March 12: Last game, Rays-Phillies exhibition
March 17: Last workout at a team facility, in Port Charlotte, before the pandemic shutdown
March 26: Scheduled season opener vs. Pirates
May 13: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says “all professional sports are welcome” in the state
May 25: Limited workouts resume at Tropicana Field
June 1: Unofficial deadline for negotiations between owners and players
July 1-4: Proposed start of abbreviated season, pending negotiated agreement
3 Optional workouts per week for Rays players
14 Estimated Rays players from the 40-man roster at Monday’s workout
56 Rays games (28 at home) postponed through Monday
82 Games proposed for abbreviated season
230 Days since last Rays game at Trop (Oct. 8, 2019)