FORT MYERS, Fla. – One day after postponing the 2020 season until at least April 9, Major League Baseball on Friday gave players the option of leaving spring training camps. But it’s not clear how many of them will actually depart.
The Twins, given Friday off while the sport’s leaders and players union sorted out the many details of the unprecedented coronavirus disruption, will gather at Hammond Stadium on Saturday morning to hear MLB’s plans. They’ll be told, according to a statement issued by the league late Friday, that spring training has been suspended, that nobody knows when organized camps will open again, and that each player is free to go home, to Minneapolis, or to stay put in Fort Myers.
They will do so with the knowledge that, 125 miles north in Tampa, the New York Yankees have already made their choice — and in a manner that might resonate as a challenge to other teams.
”Guys want to win. Guys are here to win a World Series,” reliever Zach Britton told reporters, according to NJ.com, after revealing that the team had voted unanimously to remain at their Tampa camp in order to continue informal workouts while waiting for the season to be rescheduled. “… Guys want to be ready for whenever that opportunity comes. I was happy to know that we’re all pulling in the same direction.”
The suspension of training camp is a tacit admission by MLB that the season, originally supposed to start on March 26, likely will be delayed even longer than two weeks, but Britton said Yankees players believe they are better off staying in Tampa, even as the coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 5,000 victims worldwide, continues to spread.
“I feel like if we’re going to get sick, we’re better off doing that when we have the resources of the Yankees. I don’t think anybody feels scared of getting the coronavirus,” said Britton, the team’s player representative. “They could have easily gone home to be with their families, and they decided we want to stick together and get ready for the season.”
But other players and teams likely will make other choices. Only 10-15 Cardinals will remain at their camp in Jupiter, Fla., the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday, along with a “skeleton crew” of coaches and training staff, after the players were urged to depart. Teams believe that a second, abbreviated training camp will be scheduled ahead of the rescheduled Opening Day, so there is no need for players to remain.
Players will be allowed to use team training facilities, including weight rooms, batting cages and bullpens, but no formal on-field workouts are to be scheduled.
Twins officials were not available for comment Friday, but catcher Mitch Garver said Thursday he believed he and his teammates intended to stay in Fort Myers as well.
“We’re going to stick around. It’s not a lockout, it’s not a work stoppage. We’re still going to be here,” Garver said, though that was before it became apparent that the disruption could last into May, June or beyond. “We’re still going to be doing quote-unquote organized training. Guys are going to come in, they’re going to do what they normally do, but there’s just not going to be a game at 1 o’clock.”
Pitcher Kenta Maeda, too, said he would remain in Fort Myers, though he has a home in Los Angeles, and believed he won’t be alone in doing so.
“I think the guys will stay here, get their team workout in, and get ready for the season,” the Japanese righthander said.
The coaching staff and medical staff will have similar decisions to make, though it’s likely to be heavily influenced by what the players decide.
Minor league players were also given permission to go home if they wished.
Staying in Florida means extending spring lodging or finding new accommodations, and while baseball is expected to continue paying spring living stipends for players who stay, it will be a scramble for some.
“Probably something to figure out, along with everything else,” mused Twins reliever Taylor Rogers.