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The nostalgia of Fenway Park’s reopening wore off within minutes on Friday, when the Red Sox returned to work for Day 1 of “summer camp,” the second attempt at spring training.
Once you make it past the temperature screening and bag checks, work your way up five stories of ramps (elevator use is discouraged), walk past the press box and set up shop in the nosebleeds behind the third-base line, you look onto the field to see an unusual image.
There’s a makeshift bullpen set up in the center-field triangle, with catchers squatting in a line as the pitching machine fires bullets into the ground and rusty backstops do their best to stab at them.
Jason Varitek oversees the crew, wearing a blue face covering. Christian Vazquez is standing nearby, wearing an N95 mask and otherwise in full catcher’s gear. Most of the other players are without a mask, but some keep one on their neck or ready to use.
Down the left field line are a few pitchers, it looks like Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes, jogging back on the warning track.
There’s a batting cage set up behind home plate, but nobody is using it at the moment.
And near the Red Sox dugout, general manager Brian O’Halloran was among a handful of front office executives spread out, mostly on their phones, casually watching the events on the field.
There wasn’t much to see. It was like Day 1 of spring training all over again, with pitchers later participating in fielding drills meant for the first week of February.
And yet, in three weeks, MLB is hoping those pitchers will be ready to compete in regular season games that count in the standings. Some owners are hoping there might be some fans in the stands for some of those games.
Later on Friday afternoon, a few things happened to make us remember how distant a possibility that may be.
Around noon, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke walked into the interview room in Fenway Park where he found nothing but a podium and some TV monitors, with reporters’ faces on Zoom. Most of the reporters were stationed a few stories above in the press box or the outdoor press seating area.
Roenicke came out with an opening statement: the Red Sox had multiple positive tests for the coronavirus this week, but he doesn’t want to be asked much more about it.
“If somebody tests positive, as we go through this training camp, we’ll try to let you know,” the skipper said. “But I don’t want to talk about this every day because what’s going to happen is there’s some testing that they’re doing and they’ve got to run the tests back over again and we may have to hold a player out for a day. And if that happens, I don’t want to have you guys speculate on whether somebody has the virus or not.
“So how we want to do it is I’ll talk about the camp and what guys … we didn’t have everybody that came in. We do have some positive tests. With the COVID laws, with the laws or rules that MLB have placed on and the protocols, I won’t be able to give you names on these players.”
Projected Opening Day starter Eduardo Rodriguez was missing from the first day of workouts while the Sox were still awaiting his test results.
“Eduardo didn’t come in today,” Roenicke said. “The reason being is that he was at home, was around somebody that was sick. He wanted to just make sure that he was fine so we have tested him, we don’t have the results back yet and when we get those results, obviously you’ll know.
“Eddie was fine with me telling you guys that. I just don’t want to have to talk about this every day because it’s going to come up every day. We’re tested all the time. It will be a little cleaner if we just leave it this way to where if something does come up through camp, I’ll let you guys know.”
As the Red Sox continued their workouts, a few more notable events took place.
An email arrived just before 4 p.m. from the Red Sox public relations team.
“Our security staff alerted us that there were several instances today in which masks were not completely covering people’s mouths and noses,” the email read. “This is a requirement for everyone in the park that we all have to abide by.”
For reporters in the press box, photographers and TV camera operators around the park, masks are mandatory. Day 1 was a rough start.
An hour later, Major League Baseball announced the Red Sox weren’t the only team with coronavirus problems.
In the first round of league-wide testing this week, 38 of the 3,185 tests (1.2 percent) were positive. Of those 38, 31 were players and seven were staff members. Of the 30 MLB teams, 19 teams had positive tests.
Now the league must find a way to contain those tests, isolate the individuals, wait for multiple negative tests before allowing them back into the facilities and hope it stops the spread.
Can this thing actually work over a 60-game season in 2020?
“I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t know,” said Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh. “I hope so. I really, really hope so. I’m up here in Boston without my family for three months trying to play baseball, trying to put a game on for three hours a night for people to hopefully give them some rest, give them a break, give them some entertainment. But then go right back to the real world.
“Obviously our hope is that we can do this safely and we can pull it off, but we’ve seen in different areas in the country and different areas of the world that this virus can be unpredictable and if we aren’t extremely vigilant on our part it doesn’t take a lot for the walls to start closing in.”
Gone are the days of the players going from the locker room to the dugout via the underground tunnel, then emerging from the darkness to run up the steps into the century-old ballpark.
Instead, you’ll see players carrying their bat bags over their shoulder, slowly making the trek down two stories of staircases in the stands as they head to the field from their new home in the luxury suites. The players like the suites, Michael Chavis said, and by keeping the suites limited to two players per room, it’s giving them additional space and comfort they wouldn’t have in the clubhouse, which is currently off limits to players.
The training room was moved upstairs to a more ventilated area. And the general concourse was transitioned into a weight room, providing more questions as to how the Sox will have fans in the stands when they’d need to open areas to the public that are currently being used by the players.
Most coaches wore masks, as did front office personnel. But that wasn’t stopping some players, including many who did not wear masks, from huddling in groups behind the batting cage or in the outfield grass before a drill.
“We’re still trying to get comfortable with the spacing and I know one time we probably had too many guys a little close together and we have to keep reminding them, and I’ve got to remind myself also when I go to talk to somebody,” Roenicke said. “I think the staff is trying to keep their mask on as best they can so if we happen to get a little close we have a mask on. The players just remind them and I think they’ll get used to it.”
Roenicke is trying to plan a workout schedule that doesn’t require too many guys on the field at once, and not a lot of standing around.
The practices look quite isolating that way. The park was mostly quiet all morning and early afternoon. The sun rarely peeked out from behind the Prudential Center.
Nobody knows if this will work. It sure is different.
Story by Jason Mastrodonato, Boston Herald