Rocco Baldelli sat by himself in the far corner of the Twins dugout on Monday, looking out at an empty Target Field. It’s one of the last quiet moments he will have for a while.
Twins players have begun assembling in Minneapolis, their manager said, and the early arrivals are tackling the newly developed checklist of preconditions for playing baseball. A group was tested for the coronavirus on Sunday, another large group will be tested on Tuesday, and all are receiving briefings, demonstrations and ballpark tours to prepare them for an MLB season unlike any other.
“Every single thing we do, every comfort that we’ve always had, has to be relooked at and reimagined. We have to get used to new things, and that’s not easy,” Baldelli said during a video news conference with Twins President Dave St. Peter and President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey. “I think the players are excited to finally be playing baseball, while also understanding there is a lot of unknown out there. They don’t know what they’re going to see. They may see some things coming back that they don’t like. Hopefully they feel comfortable about the situation as a whole.”
Every player among the 59 the Twins have invited to camp intends to play, Falvey said, even as a handful of players around the league announced they will sit out the 60-game season. Check-in day is Wednesday, and Baldelli hopes to convene the first time-staggered and socially distanced workout on Friday morning
. Most players will work at Target Field, but a dozen or so on the “taxi squad,” inactive but staying ready once the season starts, will be based at CHS Field in St. Paul, with a separate coaching staff.
“We are going to challenge our players to look at the guy next to you and do everything you can to protect that person. That’s going to include everything we do away from the ballpark.”
Then come three weeks of daily practices, drills and intrasquad games, all in hopes of restoring hitters’ timing and pitchers’ arm strength by the time the July 23 or 24 Opening Day arrives. More than 16 weeks will have lapsed since the Twins’ final spring training session in Fort Myers, Fla., so three weeks doesn’t seem like much preparation for resuming MLB-level play.
But Baldelli said the Twins’ training staff is optimistic, given that they have monitored regular and consistent workouts that players have conducted on their own during the long layoff.
“It’s not really ramping up from a flat level. They’ve already begun that ramp-up process,” Baldelli said, particularly the pitchers. He and his coaching staff have designed flexible plans and schedules for individual players but know many will have to be changed as camp proceeds. “We’re going to probably want to get their legs moving early, get them a feel of being on their feet, being in cleats, being outside. But you might also say, you can’t have these guys throwing to the point where they’re going to need to take a step back.”
They just hope that COVID-19 doesn’t force anyone to take a step back. MLB is creating a COVID-related injury list, in preparation for the inevitability that more players test positive. A handful of Twins players, major and minor league, tested positive last week, and as the numbers keep rising, MLB knows its plans for a season and postseason remain precarious.
“The unknown is really what keeps everybody up at night,” Baldelli said.
Including medical and training employees, clubhouse staff and the front office, the Twins will administer 131 tests regularly, with results coming back from a lab in suburban Salt Lake City the next day. Baldelli said he intends to address the team as a whole before the first workout
“Every single thing we do, every comfort that we’ve always had, has to be relooked at and reimagined. We have to get used to new things, and that’s not easy”
“We are going to challenge our players to look at the guy next to you and do everything you can to protect that person. That’s going to include everything we do away from the ballpark,” said Baldelli, who had to make the “very difficult” calls to inform Bob McClure and Bill Evers, Twins coaches in their 60s, that they would not be on the staff this season as a virus precaution. “We want these guys to have a great time while they are out here performing and living their lives. But what we really want to do is make sure they consider themselves, their families and the person next to them. Because we are going to have to do it as a group.”
Despite all the challenges, Baldelli said he’s “excited about seeing our guys back.” From his quiet perch in the dugout, “I looked up at the scoreboard and saw Luis Arraez up there [on the screen]. It gives you a good feeling inside. It makes you feel optimistic,” the manager said. “It makes you excited to get out of bed and show up and do the things we do. It’s going to look very different, but I think our guys are excited to be back.”