The Twins are back at Target Field and they’ve spread out. With no one else in the place, players and coaches are free to conduct business just about anywhere in the park.
They’re throwing and lifting weights on the concourse along the first base line, dining in the Champions Club and hitting off tees on the warning track, stretching out in a 39,000-seat stadium that most likely will stay closed to guests.
Like the Torrances did in the Overlook Hotel, the Twins are social distancing. Unlike the Torrances, they’ll have to go elsewhere to get into trouble. As we have learned over the past several days, COVID-19 is not magically disappearing with the heat.
But Major League Baseball wants to play this season and the first day of “summer camp” made one thing abundantly clear: MLB is serious about the novel coronavirus pandemic. If major league players, coaches or staff catch COVID-19 between now and Opening Day — when teams have most control over their employees and grounds — there will be a 99 percent chance they didn’t get it at the ballpark.
Temperature checks, face masks, and signed questionnaires and waivers were required of visitors to the park on Friday, and these are people MLB doesn’t care all that much about. Major league players have been poked, prodded and swabbed to within centimeters of their brain pans. Thirty-one tested positive for COVID-19 during “intake” testing this week, two of them Twins — Willians Astudillo and, naturally, Miguel Sano.
Had they spent their spring at Target Field, 24 hours a day, Sano and Astudillo would no doubt have been out with teammates on Friday. Instead, they were put immediately into quarantine and must test negative twice before they can join the team.
Say what you will about how Rob Manfred has run baseball the past five years, we’d probably all be better off had he been running virus prevention in Washington.
None of this means the novel, 60-day season scheduled to start July 23 will be completed because ultimately, the health of 30 major league teams is not up to the teams or the Commissioner’s Office. It’s about what everyone — players, coaches, staff — does away from the park.
One thing major league testing puts into stark relief is the difference between the way serious people are treating the pandemic and the way many, many others are treating it. Are the players — between the ages of 21-40 in the Twins’ 60-player pool — serious enough to play it safe, every day, through October?
In an environment where just getting a beer after the game could get you sick, it might not take much to compromise the team, or even the whole season. Manfred said as much during a radio show with Dan Patrick on Thursday. In a 60-game season, the Commissioner said, the competitive infrastructure is fragile.
“If we have a team or two that’s really decimated with a number of people who had the virus and can’t play for any significant period of time,” Manfred told Patrick, “it could have a real impact on the competition and we’d have to think very, very hard about what we’re doing.”
So, there you go
Baseball, MLS, NBA, WNBA and NHL — all of which return to play or practice this month — all hoped, or maybe even assumed, the United States would be in better shape by now. But states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas are experiencing spikes after leading the way on re-opening fun stuff such as beaches, water parks and bars, and so is California, an early model more the cautious approach.
As former Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden tweeted Friday, “It’s worse, will continue to get worse and will take months to improve substantially.”
If a World Series champion is crowned this fall, it will be as much about what happens outside the lines as inside them. And in an environment in which being responsible won’t stop you from getting sick, there are zero guarantees.