FORT MYERS, FLA. – The sounds of the sport were unmistakable Sunday at CenturyLink Sports Complex, spring home of the Twins. Applause, chatter by the infielders, gloves snapping as the ball was fired around, and the resounding crack of a bat.
Well, the ping. This was softball, the semifinals of the 30th Gene Cusic Classic, an annual national tournament of NAIA-level colleges.
Just across the parking lot, though, the gates to Hammond Stadium were locked, and clues that a major league team was supposed to play here — the Braves were scheduled to face the Twins inside those gates on Sunday — were almost nonexistent.
Major League Baseball wants to keep it that way. Apparently concerned by the intention of a handful of teams to hold organized workouts in camps that have been officially closed, MLB sent a memo to all 30 teams Saturday, according to MLB Network’s Joel Sherman, prohibiting any involvement of coaches or staff, aside from medical needs.
“Clubs are not permitted to hold or organize any group workouts, practices, skill or conditioning sessions, or other player activities at their facilities,” the memo read. MLB promised further guidance on what will be allowed once “we develop appropriate protocols to minimize the risk to players [which we are actively working on].”
The memo came with a warning that appeared prescient on Sunday. “The strong recommendation from our infectious disease and public health experts is that clubs should avoid all activities in which players congregate in significant numbers or otherwise unable to practice the ‘social distancing’ protocols recommended by the [Center for Disease Control],” it read. “The risk of a player in a club facility contracting the virus is real.”
And now it’s reality. ESPN reported Sunday that an unidentified minor league player in the Yankees’ camp in Tampa, who woke up with a fever on Friday, had become the first professional baseball player to test positive for the coronavirus. The Yankees immediately instructed their minor league players to quarantine in their hotel rooms for two weeks, ESPN reported, with the team delivering meals.
The Twins, whose players decided Saturday to leave camp until the pandemic crisis passes, will allow the roughly 20 major and minor leaguers who remain in Fort Myers (of the roughly 175 who opened camp) to use the Hammond Stadium weight room, batting cages and pitcher’s mounds on their own, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Saturday, but they have no intention of organizing any baseball activities.
“You can envision what our January looks like here, which is to have some of the local staff here, mostly in weight rooms. Obviously baseball equipment is available if guys want to go play catch. We have some pitching coordinators here. We’ll certainly have a few guys, I’m sure, who can catch,” Falvey said. “But I don’t think it will be much more than that. It will be a skeleton crew of sorts.”
The Twins urged players to stay in shape at their homes, work out a few times a week, Falvey said. “We’ll continue to stay in touch. We’ll be attentive to each player, whether they’re here or not,” he said. “We’ll be attentive to what their weekly plan looks like and what resources they need for those plans.”
The MLB facilities are required to be available only to players on the 40-man roster, with exceptions granted for international players who choose not to leave the United States, or players “who require ongoing [medical] treatment.” The league acknowledged that some players had chosen to stay at their spring sites — the Yankees announced on Friday that they had unanimously voted to remain in Tampa — “but we anticipate that may change in the coming days as events continue to unfold and players become better educated about current conditions,” MLB’s memo read.