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Rays-Yankees playoff series in San Diego? Yeah, it’s weird

Sharing a hotel with the opponent and being guests in the home clubhouse are only a few of the oddities at the American League Division Series.
Rays players warm up during batting practice before their ALDS game against the New York Yankees Monday at Petco Park in San Diego.
Rays players warm up during batting practice before their ALDS game against the New York Yankees Monday at Petco Park in San Diego. [ DENIS POROY | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 6, 2020

SAN DIEGO — It’s weird.

Also, going alphabetically: abnormal, bizarre, different, extraordinary, odd, peculiar, unusual and wacky.

The Tampa Bay Rays are facing the New York Yankees in the American League playoffs in San Diego, Calif., at the home stadium of the National League Padres.

Why? That’s kind of clear.

After navigating a 60-game regular season disrupted but not derailed by coronavirus cases and concerns, Major League Baseball wanted to be proactive to increase the chances for the postseason to be completed and of getting the direly needed massive infusion of revenue from TV rights deals that come with it.

But, how?

After playing the opening round of the expanded tournament at the higher-seeded teams' stadiums, the league implemented a modified version of the bubble concept used by other sports.

The division, league championship and World Series are being played at neutral-site stadiums in California and Texas, greatly reducing travel risk while quarantining teams and league officials at plush resorts, allowing for some freedoms as the facilities are closed to anyone not part of the bubble.

“It kind of just is what it is in 2020,” Rays Game 2 starter and player rep Tyler Glasnow said before Monday’s 9-3 opening-game loss. “It’s kind of been the theme for this year.”

• • •

It’s weird that the teams competing against each other are sharing the same hotel. Especially these teams.

Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said last week, “they don’t like us, we don’t like them, and it’s going to continue to stay that way." Yankees veteran outfielder Brett Gardner agreed, noting, “the feeling’s probably mutual.”

Despite COVID-19 distancing rules, increased on-site security and strategic planning in room assignments, separate entrances and staggered arrival and departure times, the Rays and Yankees are crossing paths in the lobby, common areas and hallways.

“It’s not ideal,” Gardner said. “It’s something we have to deal with. So say, hello,' and just move on.”

You’d think professionalism and common courtesy would prevent any lingering animosity from what’s happened on the field from showing up at the hotel.

Then again, a Mike Brosseau-Aroldis Chapman elevator ride could be quite awkward. Or maybe, in the spirit of being in San Diego, could there be a rumble in the coffee shop line planned between the two squads like the news teams in theAnchorman” movie?

“Not that I know of,” Glasnow said with a grin.

• • •

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It’s weird that the Rays are making themselves at home in Petco Park using the clubhouse that is the year-round base of operations for the Padres, who moved out Saturday to head to their neutral-site series in Arlington.

“We are a guest, but we’re being treated very well,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, who took over San Diego counterpart Jayce Tingler’s cleaned-out office. "The staff that stayed back with the Padres did a tremendous job of welcoming us. We’ve been allowed to bring some of our own stuff, and (that) made it more comfortable. But, yeah, there’s a lot of brown and yellow as opposed to blue and yellow.''

The Rays and Padres use the same Dreamseats furniture, so the Rays did bring the zip-in panels with the burst logo. Though Padres branding is everywhere around the stadium, MLB is trying to customize, wrapping outfield fences with postseason signage; showing the Rays, Yankees and ALDS logos on the video boards; allowing the home team to play its hype videos, walkup music and recorded pregame events. (The higher-seeded Rays are the home team for Games 1, 2 and 5, wearing white and batting last; the Yankees get those rights for Games 3 and 4).

The Rays players seem to be enjoying the digs at Petco, which opened in 2004 and gets rave reviews. “Their clubhouse is beautiful, I’m not going to lie,” Rays pitcher Blake Snell said. “So I don’t mind being here at all.”

• • •

It’s weird that the Rays and Yankees are playing more than 2,500 miles from either’s home. And it’s weird that it’s not a big deal in San Diego, with no fans allowed and the Padres-Dodgers series being played in Texas dominating the news coverage.

MLB chose the neutral sites based on coronavirus case trends, weather, availability, proximity, hotel options and other logistics. To reduce any distinct edge in familiarity, they put the NL teams in the AL parks in Arlington and Houston, and the AL teams in SoCal, with the other series at Dodger Stadium.

The Rays have played the Yankees at neutral sites before, in Japan for a 2004 season-opening series and at the Mets' Citi Field in 2017 due to hurricane rescheduling.

Those were different. But this?

“It’s weird,” Cash said.

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