It has been 16 weeks since Major League Baseball came to a crashing halt on March 12 — two weeks before Opening Day — due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, the Miami Marlins and the rest of MLB take the next step toward resuming the season when they begin three weeks of organized team workouts ahead of a 60-game season that begins on July 23 or 24.
The Marlins will have at least 41 players from their 60-man roster pool initially report to their main training site at Marlins Park. The rest, mostly prospects, will be based at the team’s usual spring training site at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium Complex in Jupiter. It’s not guaranteed that every player will be able to report for the first day of camp as players await results from Wednesday’s intake screenings. Players have to self-quarantine until their results arrive and can only report to training sessions if their COVID-19 test comes back negative.
“Baseball’s always been a game of adjustments,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “You’ll have to make them. We’ll have to make them as a coaching staff and as an organization.”
To comply with social distancing and a slew of new health and safety protocols, the Marlins will stagger their daily workout sessions at Marlins Park. Sessions will focus more on live batting practices and simulation games than routine drill work that is typical of early spring training practices before games begin. Teams will also be allowed to have intrasquad games.
“There won’t be any competition with other uniforms,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “It’ll at all be internal, and that’s essentially the same guidelines that we’ll have with our group in Miami as well. We’ll have to do everything internally to get our guys work and get them ready for the regular season.”
That’s just one of several challenges the Marlins will have to adapt to during the next few months.
Among the new rules put in place according to MLB’s 101-page operations manual: No spitting. No licking fingers. Staggered uses of bullpens, weight rooms and batting cages. Wearing masks when not working out. Limited physical contact. Limited face touching (including to wipe off sweat or to give signs to teammates).
“We’ve got lots of hurdles,” Mattingly said. “That’s one of the things we will talk about. With all of the hurdles and all of the protocols and all the things we’ll have to deal with — as a player and as a staff member — everything has changed.”
Added shortstop Miguel Rojas: “You know, as a baseball player, you have routines. These routines have been developed for a long time — like getting to the ballpark really early in the afternoon. This is not going to be the case. The case is getting to the ballpark at a time when you can get your work done.”
Players on the Marlins’ 40-man roster have been able to use the Jupiter and Marlins Park facilities for individual workouts over the past month to stay ready for whenever the season started. Most of the Marlins’ starting pitchers are already worked up to throw four to five innings at a time.
But with that came a balance between players staying ready and not over-exerting themselves as the stoppage between workouts lingered for more than three months.
“You didn’t know when or how it was going to start or if it was gonna start,” Mattingly said. “It was just hard to really planning anything for those guys so the biggest thing was you didn’t want them to try to stay in high gear month after month. Let’s just keep a baseline. We’re going to have to get some time in spring if we get back.”
They will get back on Friday.