MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins’ nearly four-month hiatus from baseball activity came to an end at approximately 3 p.m. Friday at Target Field as a group of players slowly made their way onto the field. Many were wearing masks as part of the protocols put into place because of the coronavirus pandemic that brought a sudden halt to their season (and so much of life) on March 12.
Some ascended the steps on the right field side to get socially distanced work in along the concourse. Others remained in right field playing catch. There were moments were things did seem normal: Many took off their masks in the 91-degree heat to play catch. The familiar sound of the pop of the mitts echoed throughout the empty ballpark. Rich Hill, who was signed in the offseason and wasn’t expected to be ready until July after underoing surgery, was among the pitchers who threw a bullpen session.
“That’s the part that everyone on this call is enjoying,” Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, said on a Zoom video conference. “Sitting out there and watching a few guys start throwing a pen and see some guys throwing on the mound. … It’s good to see some of the guys get back together.”
Falvey used the word some because the Twins’ work out took place in groups, instead of having everyone on the field at the same time, in an attempt to create as much social distancing as possible.
The reality is that there was little about Friday that felt normal — just as there won’t be anything about the 2020 Major League season (or any other sports season for that matter) that will seem normal. The Twins likely will open defense of their American League Central title three weeks from Friday (the schedule is yet to be released), and then play 59 more regular-season games, or 37 percent of the 162-game season they expected to play when they opened spring training in February in Fort Myers, Fla.
That’s assuming that MLB teams are able to complete the season and that there won’t be another interruption because of COVID-19. With the virus numbers surging in states such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, there are no guarantees that MLB will be able to finish what it likely will start and there are certainly no guarantees that a few teams won’t be impacted by an outbreak of the virus.
Falvey said the Twins had had two major league players test positive for COVID-19 during the intake process, including Willians Astudillo and one whom Falvey declined to name. Astudillo was asymptomatic but has been quarantined and will have to pass multiple tests in the coming days before being cleared to rejoin his teammates. Falvey also volunteered that minor leaguers Nick Gordon and Edwar Colina were among the players who tested positive for the coronavirus in a previous round of testing.
Falvey spoke to the media on a Zoom videoconference shortly after MLB and the Major League players association reported 38 new positive tests had come from 3,185 samples collected from players and staff members this week. That’s an encouraging number of only 1.2 percent, but does not include the more than 40 cases of players and staff members who reportedly tested positive before teams arrived for summer camp.
The key now will be keeping players healthy as camps continue and games begin. Baseball teams won’t be placed in the bubble system that the NBA and NHL are planning to use, so teams will have to rely on their players to make smart decisions. That’s a tall order considering how many of these guys are in their 20s and are used to going out on the road.
The concern about how this is going to play out goes beyond the team brass. Players also voiced their feelings on Friday. The Angels’ Mike Trout, the best player in the game today, said that he and his wife, Jessica, have had many discussions about him sitting out this season to avoid getting the virus. The couple is expecting their first child in August.
“I love playing this game. We want to play,” Trout told reporters. “It’s going to come down to how safe we’re going to be. If there’s an outbreak, you definitely have to reconsider. There’s a lot of questions. I love baseball, but I have to do what’s right for my family. It’s going to be a tough decision if something happens down the road.”
Tampa Bay pitcher Charlie Morton, who is married and has four children, is at Rays camp but told reporters he also is concerned.
“I don’t feel entirely comfortable with the idea of doing this for my family, my teammates or people that are affiliated with the Rays or baseball in general,” he said. “It’s hard to come out and say yeah I’m really comfortable with this. But I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I don’t know how long we’re supposed to sit in our homes and wait to make a decision about our careers. And if there are a bunch of people that are sacrificing their time and effort and their safety to make this possible I feel like I should try. So I never really questioned whether or not I wanted to play. But there’s an opportunity for anyone here to just walk away and I don’t think anyone’s going to think less of them.”
Falvey expressed optimism upon learning that MLB’s intake process had revealed a relatively low percentage of people had the virus. As for how Twins players were adjusting on day one of a camp that includes a reworked locker room, work outs in the concourse and other steps that urge teammates to keep their distance from one another, Falvey admitted that while this felt like the first day of spring training, it certainly did not feel usual.
“I think it’s a wide range of perspectives is my early read,” Falvey said. “We have some people that certainly walked in, see masks and the clubhouse doesn’t look like it used to look and it’s a bit jarring for some. … I think it’s a range of feelings. Some guys are a bit anxious and some guys are really excited to be back and ready to go. This is different than what we’re used to, or the norm. It’s going to take some time.”