One by one, Minnesota Twins players have started streaming back into town to be greeted by their new, socially-distanced reality.
The Twins conducted COVID-19 testing Sunday, and those tests were sent off to the Utah-based lab that Major League Baseball is working with. Another round of testing was to be administered on Tuesday, May 30. In total, 131 people — players, coaches and other staff members — will be tested this week, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. And then tested again repeatedly throughout the season.
Players will test positive around the country. Some Twins already have. It’s navigating that new normal that will be the challenge for MLB teams as they attempt to play through a global pandemic.
“The unknown is really what keeps everybody up at night one way or another regardless of what the specific discussion is,” manager Rocco Baldelli said during a Zoom call Monday.
The Twins will begin navigating that unknown this week. July 1 is the report date. The first team practice, Baldelli said, will take place on either Friday or Saturday, depending on when the first round of testing is completed and everyone has settled into place. At that point, Baldelli will address his team, likely using many phrases relating to health and safety that weren’t part of the daily lexicon in February when he gave his first speech addressing the 2020 group.
The Twins will stagger workouts at Target Field and a separate group will work out at CHS Field in St. Paul. The team has been outfitting Target Field for this reality. More areas outside have been created for players to utilize. Congregating in the clubhouse will be discouraged.
The league’s document of health and safety protocols is more than 100 pages long. How well players will be able to follow it is another challenge — and another unknown.
“We are going to challenge our players to look at the guy next to them and do everything they can do to protect that person,” Baldelli said. “That’s going to include everything we do away from the ballpark. And it’s not forever but it’s a significant amount of time we are going to have to do this.”
How well players and other staff members involved are able to do it will dictate whether the league’s comeback attempt is successful. The league has not specified what would need to happen to necessitate a shutdown once the season begins. One player testing positive is expected. But two, three, four on the same team? Or 10? Those questions have yet to be answered.
“I would expect, having read those protocols as many times as I can, there’s not that clear-cut answer as to what leads to a shutdown, but certainly the league would be heavily involved in what happened on that given day,” Falvey said.
The goal, of course, is to avoid that. But at this point, despite confidence from players and officials, that’s unknowable. Ready or not, the league’s foray into that unknown begins this week.
“I think the players are excited to finally be playing baseball, while also understanding there is a lot of unknown out there,” Baldelli said. “They don’t know what they’re going to see. They may see some things coming back that they don’t like. Hopefully they feel comfortable about the situation as a whole. … It’s going to look very different, but I think our guys are excited to be back.”