The Washington Nationals are doing everything they can to prevent any possible spread of the coronavirus among their players and staff. Their precautions are so extensive, Max Scherzer said this weekend, they don’t even have cold bottled water.
Keeping it refrigerated, after all, means players would need to touch the handle of a fridge — a high-contact spot where germs can spread.
The team’s best efforts were not enough to make practice happen Monday because Major League Baseball’s lab in Utah had not returned three-day-old COVID-19 test results to the team. The Nationals canceled those workouts out of an abundance of caution. But they were able to return to Nationals Park Tuesday, and general manager Mike Rizzo said all of their July 3 tests came back negative.
“I’m the caretaker for these guys,” Rizzo said. “These are my guys, and their families are my families. The staff is my staff. I couldn’t live with myself if we went on haphazardly and didn’t abide by the rules that is in their best interest.”
Asked about the whereabouts of Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick, Victor Robles, Starlin Castro and Luis Garcia, who weren’t seen at the park Tuesday, Rizzo said anyone who comes in contact with COVID-positive players needs to be re-tested, but didn’t identify anyone specifically.
“Several of those players that you mentioned beyond the two positive tests have tested negative in their intake test, but if you come into any type of contact with a player that is positive — and we cast a real wide net of being in contact with them — (then) you have to be re-tested,” Rizzo said.
Those results have yet to come in. But Rizzo said he was confident that MLB will “get this right” going forward and deliver results in a timely manner. And he believed that as time went on, players will get used to baseball’s new normal and be able to focus on the game.
“Players are creatures of habit and routine,” Rizzo said. “I think the more comfortable they get with the protocol and procedures, I think the more comfortable they will be to concentrate on baseball. Our job is to make the corona procedures and protocols as simple and as streamlined as possible.”
Shortstop Trea Turner said he didn’t know if the players will ever be truly comfortable. If they aren’t yet at ease with working within the new protocols, they’re at least prepared to get used to it over the long haul.
“We’ve talked about it for the last two or three months in our group chat at home and we communicated pretty well player-wise, in the sense that when we come back it’s gonna be different,” Turner said. “There’s gonna be things that we don’t like and there’s gonna be bumps along the way. But as long as we’re being safe and our health is being taken care of, our families are being taken care of, then we can figure out the baseball stuff.”
Players have begun changing well-worn habits. Closer Sean Doolittle called himself a “big fist bump guy” and missed being able to thank his catcher that way after a good bullpen session. Turner tried out wearing a mask during Tuesday’s practice, though he hasn’t decided he’ll wear one during games, and said it could keep him from spitting — a no-no in the 2020 season.
“But I’m definitely gonna miss the seeds this year,” he added. “I’m a big seed guy on the bench, especially in between innings and whatnot. Wearing the mask now may help kick that habit and maybe I don’t crave that when I’m on the bench during the game and whatnot.”
The differences are at more than just the granular level. Washington has been staggering its practices; on the first day of summer camp, for instance, some players came to the park as early as 7:45 a.m., while others worked late afternoon until about 5:30 p.m. They’re working in even smaller groups at what manager Dave Martinez called “stations.”
Though the team feels it’s necessary, it makes it harder on Martinez when he can’t see the whole team at once.
“This is a team game and we haven’t seen the whole team on the field yet at one time … We’re used to seeing, when spring training starts, 60 guys in one group and working together, and we haven’t done that yet,” Martinez said.
That means no dawdling in the weight room or taking extra swings in the batting cage, Turner said. In and out, to avoid running into other players in close quarters.
“But as long as our health and safety’s taken care of,” Turner said, “then I think we can figure out baseball stuff eventually.”