From the outside, it’s clear to all this is going to be a Major League Baseball season like no other.
A late July start, a 60-game sprint of a schedule yielding statistical aberrations, and myriad health and safety regulations designed to keep the coronavirus away so teams can continue to play.
But from the inside, the differences are decidedly more dramatic.
Name something in the typical day of major-league player in the times B.C. (Before Coronavirus), and there’s a good chance it has been changed. Some for good reason, some seemingly excessive, some that seem — if it’s okay to say — somewhat amusing.
Starting with when and how players come to the stadium through warmups and batting practice, how the game itself is played, and what they can do afterward, just about everything is going to be unusual.
And even more trying to keep everyone safe and well when they leave home. Taking 65 or so people on the road for games via planes, trains, automobiles — plus buses — and to stay in hotels is much more challenging. The basic premise: Don’t do anything but play the games.
(And that’s assuming no further restrictions have to be imposed due to the virus, or the whole season is further postponed, or cancelled.)
Overall, it’s a bit of an Orwellian atmosphere with a Seussian slant given rules on when players can hit, where they’re allowed to sit, who can touch their mitt and how they better not spit.
These details and many others are contained in the 2020 Operations Manual, 100-plus pages of word salad detailing the Byzantine rules and regulations, including illustrations suggesting socially distanced plans for fielding drills to seating plans for the dugout and adjacent stands. The Tampa Bay Times obtained a copy, and as a nod to the 60-game schedule, here are 60 things that stood out:
At the stadium
Short shifts: Limiting time, and time together, in the clubhouse is a priority. Players won’t be allowed in until five hours before game time and can only stay for 90 minutes afterward. Inactive players will be encouraged to go home rather than stay for the game.
Sweat shops: In an easing of the initial restrictions sure to be welcomed throughout the clubhouse — especially on travel days — players and staff now can shower at the stadium after games. Staggered timing, and physical distancing, shouldn’t be a problem in this case.
Lock down: Social distancing extends to the clubhouse, where lockers “to the extent practicable,” should have 6 feet between them. Lockers at the Trop are built into the walls, so that would mean leaving at least every other one empty. That means the Rays may have to expand into additional space at the Trop, though probably not following the league preference to make that outdoors. The other option is to schedule staggered times for individuals to change at their lockers.
Little League style: As an alternative to spending time in the clubhouse, the team can consider requiring players and staff to come to the stadium dressed for the day. (Just imagine the Starbucks drive-thru workers wondering why that cool looking guy was dressed in a Kevin Kiermaier uniform.)
Pass the packet: In doing away with buffets and communal food spreads in favor of food served in individualized containers, teams are also taking aim at condiments. Large bottles of ketchup or mustard must be removed and replaced with individual packets.
Order well done: There also won’t be any real knives for those steaks, as cutlery has to be pre-packaged, and provided in recyclable or disposable form.
On the field
Oh say can you see: There’s a lot of references in the manual to keeping 6 feet apart. That includes when lining up during singing of the national anthem and God Bless America.
Step back: It’s suggested that infielders step away from baserunners when time is out.
Lineup Genie: The traditional exchange of lineup cards won’t be done during the pre-game meeting now held 6 feet apart around home plate. But don’t worry, there’s an app for that. Each team will input its lineup into an MLB app, the umps will print them out 15 minutes before and then confirm or make late changes.
MLB = NFL: Baseball 2020 will be something of the No Fun League. There won’t be any wild mobs celebrating walkoff wins, surely totally disappointing news to the always entertaining Ji-Man Choi. Also on the no-no list: high-fives, fist bumps and hugs. Surely the Rays will get creative with something less intimate.
Personal equipment: Pitchers will have their own bag of baseballs to use for bullpen sessions, and if there is some instructing being done, the player and coach should use separate balls in demonstrating grips or mechanical changes.
Buy ‘em by the gross: Teams are going to need lots and lots of baseballs. Each day the balls used for batting practice will be picked up — by staffers wearing gloves — and stored for at least five days before being used again.
Maybe they can pantomime: Any ball that is put in play and touched by multiple players has to be tossed out. As a result, players are “strongly discouraged” from throwing the ball around the infield. Good luck with that one.
Dugout expansion: Just because there’s no fans, at least to start the season, doesn’t mean the stands will be empty. With a heavy emphasis on physical distancing, players not likely to participate in the game (such as the next day’s starting pitcher) will be sitting in the stands near the dugout, with two rows and four seats between them. To be sure teams get it right, MLB included a drawing of how to set up the dugout and adjacent seating areas.
Long-distance call: Similarly, not all the pitchers available in relief that day may be in the bullpen. Unless seating configurations can be arranged to accommodate social distancing, teams are encouraged to use adjacent stadium seating.
Masked men: Everyone but the players have to wear masks at all times in the dugout and bullpen. Players and coaches can choose to wear masks when they are on the field, but not use them for personal messages or to promote sponsors as they must be approved by his team and the league. Wonder if there might be team-branded masks — conveniently available for purchase on the website.
UDH: The designated hitter will be used universally, so for those 10 or so road games at National League parks, we’ll be spared the potential sight of Blake Snell batting.
Get it done: In an effort to limit extra innings, every half inning after the ninth will start with a runner on second base, typically the last batter of the previous inning. (If that runner scores, it won’t count as an earned run on the pitcher.)
Lickity split: Pitchers are forbidden from licking their fingers, but instead can carry a wet rag (with only water on it) in their back pocket to touch for moisture.
3’s up: The new three-batter minimum rule for pitchers will be employed, which changes strategy not just on using relievers, but also in constructing lineups.
No arguing: Under the cover of physical distancing, not only is fraternizing with opposing players now forbidden, but also arguing with them or the umps. Or at least from less than 6 feet away. If so, they’re subject to ejection, plus potential fines and suspensions.
And definitely no brawling: The rules here are clear: “fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited” and that there can be no “physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action.” The threatened punishment is “severe discipline” based on past precedent — and not prorated for the shortened season.
To each his own: To cut down on communal equipment, pitchers have to bring their own rosin bag to the mound.
And their own: Batters have to bring out their own pine tar rags and weighted donuts to the on-deck circle.
No helping hand: Say leftfielder Austin Meadows is running from second to third when a Rays inning ends. He has to go back to the dugout to get his glove and cap (and, if needed, sunglasses) as a teammate can no longer bring it out as a courtesy.
No spit: Players and coaches are prohibited from any kind of spitting.
Or reason to: Also prohibited, using sunflower seeds and tobacco.
Double bubble: Gum can be chewed, but can’t be spit out.
Sign of the times: Woe to the player who has trouble remembering the signs, which may be trickier. That’s because all players, coaches and managers are told they “must make every effort to avoid touching their face with their hands,” including giving signs, wiping away sweat or using their fingers to whistle.
Hey, rook: Bat and ball boys or girls are prohibited, so someone from the team will have to retrieve the bat, grab the arm and shin guards that get discarded when a hitter reaches base, and provide new balls to the home plate ump.
For openers: Players will be tested as they arrive in camp. They’ll answer a symptoms questionnaire, have their temperatures taken, then their saliva checked for COVID-19 and blood for antibodies. As they quarantine 24-48 hours waiting for the results, they have to complete an educational course about the virus. When cleared of all that, they can begin workouts.
Daily duty: Once they start Spring 2.0 camp, players will have their temperature checked twice a day (once on their own at home, once entering the stadium) and saliva tests every other day throughout the season. Once a month they’ll have another antibody test.
Tiering up: Members of an organization not only will be separated to a degree from the public, but from each other with three tiers of access. Tier 1 includes up to 87 players (starting with the full 60, then cut back to the active roster), coaches, manager, athletic training and medical staffers who have access to the restricted areas such as the field, clubhouse, dugout, trainer’s room. There’s 38 Tier 2 slots for staffers, such as front-office execs, other training and medical personnel, head groundskeeper, and clubhouse, travel and communications staff, who get access with some physical distancing. Pretty much everyone else involved — grounds crew, security, TV production — is considered Tier 3, with no access to the field or Tier 1 folks.
Positive statement: Anyone who tests positive will be removed from the group immediately and isolated until they have two negative COVID tests 24 hours apart, an antibody test and show no symptoms.
Unwanted stay: Teams have to have a Designated Isolation Area at the stadium for a players/staffers who test positive, and plans at home and on the road (usually through the host team) to transport, house and treat them until cleared.
We’re still saying DL: There now will be two “injured lists.” The normal one for pitchers and position players that will last 10 days, and a new “COVID-19 Related Injured List,” with no minimum or max length of stay. The COVID list is not only for players who test positive, but also those exhibiting symptoms requiring self-isolation or with confirmed exposure to COVID.
Taxi squad: Teams can bring three extra players, known as the taxi squad, to road games, one of whom has to be a catcher, which provides depth onsite in case an active player is sidelined by injury or a positive test.
Cover up: Masks are required to be worn for all stages of travel.
All aboard: Players and coaches are encouraged to take the team bus from the hotel to the stadium, and they’ll be at least six trips a day — up from the usual two — to make it more convenient and less crowded.
Or not: They’re not allowed to opt for public transportation (like a train) but are allowed — though discouraged — to use taxis, car services and Uber/Lyft ride-shares.
Flight plan: The schedule, due to be released this week, is expected to be designed to minimize the need for flights, such as having the Rays play the Yankees and Mets on the same trip to New York, or combining visits to Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, which can be reached by bus. When they do fly, they need to be spaced out, preferably in first class-style seats (which some chartered planes have throughout) but at least with middle seats blocked.
Cash call: Another rule for flights is that except for bathroom breaks, all passengers have to stay seated. So if there was usually a gathering for a card game that change might save a certain member of the traveling party some money he’d otherwise lose.
Can you hold it? Those trips to the plane bathroom need to be staggered, with toilet lids closed before flushing and the next person waiting “several minutes” before going in.
Bag lunch: Meal, snack and drink service on team charter flights used to be pretty much a non-stop smorgasbord. Now it sounds only slightly better that than impossibly tiny pouch of pretzels most of us get in coach: a bag prepacked with food, drink, snacks and disinfectant wipes.
No sharing: Teamwork will be required to eat on the plane as only one person seated in the row can eat or drink at a time.
Hot in here: Fresh air is a popular commodity, and at the expense of air conditioning, which should be lovely in July and August. Windows on team buses — even the emergency exit openings on the roof — should be opened if possible.
And here: The same goes for hotel room windows. Hello, New York City street noise.
No mints on your pillow: After using private entrances to the hotels, players and staff are supposed to stay away from other people as much as possible. That means no hanging out in the lobby or bar, having room service and other deliveries left at the door, and no daily visits from the housekeeping staff.
Hot to the touch: In the rooms, they can have only single-use cups, no coffee mugs or drink glasses.
So much for the view: Players and staff are to be assigned rooms on lower floors when possible so they can take the stairs and avoid elevators.
And the company: No non-team guests can be assigned to the same floor.
Not-so-fine dining: Going out for steaks in New York, lobster in Boston and crabs in Baltimore are usually among the perks of the road for the Rays. Not so much this year, as they are not allowed to leave the hotel to eat, or to go into a hotel restaurant that is open to the public. Instead, there will be private dining areas, which could be an otherwise-closed restaurant but more likely conference-room type settings in the hotels, with snacks and meals in individual containers or bags. Players can order room service and delivery from restaurants, which seems more appetizing.
A different lineup: The hotel dining room won’t be the bonding experience it could be as players eating together have to sit spaced out at a table and on the same side, not facing each other.
Visitors pass: Players and staff can’t stay anywhere but the team hotel and can only have other members of the traveling party or immediate family (spouse, significant other, kids) in their rooms.
Hi, it’s me: Socializing with any other family or friends is discouraged, and if done must include wearing masks and gloves.
Rain delay theatre: It’s not an issue at the Trop, but to prevent teams from having to be kept in the clubhouse waiting out long rain delays, games stopped before five innings will be suspended and continued.
Fun and games: Teams can set their own rules on recreational items in the clubhouse, such as the ping-pong table that is popular among the Rays. Best case is regular disinfecting of the paddles, as well as playing cards, dominoes, etc.
Every day I’m hustlin': Though the stadium will be mostly empty (with a limited number of media) walk-up music, audio and PA announcements can be played. Also, out-of-town scores posted, limited replays shown on the video board and other limited scoreboard actions done.
What’s blue and furry? We’re not sure what he’ll do with no fans to entertain or torment, but Raymond and other mascots are allowed in their home ballparks, though they can’t dare go on the field.
Get the e-edition: Shared items such as newspapers are to be removed from the clubhouse and made available upon (surely frequent) request.