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Angels manager Joe Maddon became comfortable with being inconvenienced during the coronavirus pandemic. He took advantage of his newfound freedom to pedal his bike around, reset his sleep schedule and overhaul his health habits.
Maddon is 66 years old — “The new 46, by the way,” he joked — but he has bolstered his defenses. He does not consider himself to be unusually vulnerable to the disease that has contributed to the deaths of more than 87,000 people in the U.S. over age 65, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So when asked if he were uncomfortable risking his health and safety for the sake of Major League Baseball’s impending return next month, he did not hesitate to answer, “No.”
“What I’ve done is try to prepare mentally, physically, been as diligent regarding my own personal workout program,” Maddon said in a conference call Wednesday. “I can’t even say I was this diligent back when I played. In my mind, I’m prepared from that perspective.
“Taking supplements, eating, sleeping. So no, I’m not concerned. If I had not prepared myself, I’d be more concerned. I’m not above anything, but I want to manage, I want to be there and I want to be part of the solution to what’s going on right now.”
Maddon wants players and coaches who are preparing to return to a full baseball workload for the first time in three months to adopt a mind-set like his. He believes the quicker they become used to the guidelines being implemented to prevent a coronavirus outbreak — ranging from the mundane (eliminating high-fives) to the complicated (behaving responsibly off the field to avoid exposure) — the more success the Angels will have.
Maybe the fact that two Angels players are among the 40 MLB players and staff members who tested positive for the coronavirus last week will be enough of a wakeup call.
“I don’t see anything as being too difficult,” Maddon said. “Inconvenient and uncomfortable, right? Just know that, accept that, wear that every day, and you’ll be able to deal with it. If you want to come in expecting the norms that we’re usually accustomed to, then you’re going to be frustrated constantly, and you can’t permit that to happen.
“Can’t emphasize enough those two words [inconvenient and uncomfortable], and if we’re able to accept that, we’ll be fine.”
But Maddon’s optimism for staging a full training camp, which begins July 1, and completing a 60-game season by the end of September, means little in the broader picture. The effects of the coronavirus are worsening in many areas the Angels are expected to begin playing in next month.
Within the 10-team Western Region, hospitalizations related to COVID-19 infections have skyrocketed. The virus has taxed hospital capacity in Arizona, home of the Diamondbacks, and in the Texas counties of Tarrant and Harris, where the Rangers and Houston Astros play, respectively. Texas Children’s Hospital began admitting adult patients in the Houston area this week.
In California counties where hospitals have fewer coronavirus patients now than in early May, the number of positive COVID-19 cases are still rising. Experts link the trend to the virus affecting more people under 40, many of whom aren’t at risk of becoming seriously ill, now that states have reopened certain parts of their economies.
Given the dangers, MLB granted players the right to opt-out of the season. Individuals at high risk of experiencing complications from the virus can sit out without losing full prorated salaries or service time. Teams can also choose to pay anyone who decides not to play because he lives with a high-risk individual. Three-time MVP Mike Trout, whose wife is pregnant with their first child, could be in the latter group. Maddon said he hadn’t heard if Trout or any other Angels were considering staying home.
“I haven’t heard hesitancy from anybody,” Maddon said. “I would guess if there was any, I would imagine them calling me separately to voice their concerns. I haven’t had that yet. Could it still happen? Absolutely. Now that there’s a definitive date, this is the time you may actually hear the concerned voice and maybe have to make an adaptation. If that happens, it would not surprise me.”
The late start to the season should benefit the Angels. They had been expecting to begin 2020 with pitchers Félix Peña (knee surgery) and Griffin Canning (elbow discomfort) on the injured list. They didn’t plan to have two-way player Shohei Ohtani return to the rotation after his Tommy John absence until May. Now, all three are available to start the season on the expanded roster.