To help keep players, coaches and umpires safe, MLB has eliminated the pre-game exchange of lineup cards and instituted new rules regarding how close players can get on the field. The operations manual asks that players stand at least six feet apart during the anthem every night and discourages pre-game fraternization with members of the opposing team.
The manual includes two full pages of bulleted on-field protocols, including one that says "Players, umpires, and other on-field personnel should practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball."
When people around the game started examining the new rules, though, one thing became crystal clear. There are parts of every game that you can't regulate, particularly at the plate and first base.
You can ask players to do all they can to socially distance, but there's no getting around the fact that every night at least 18 of them will dig into the box, many at the back of it because of hitting preferences, with two catchers in the crouch, breathing heavily as they go through a game. Behind the catchers there still will be an umpire, and they tend to lean on shoulders and get as close as possible to get a better view of the pitch.
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"I've definitely thought about that," catcher Buster Posey said. "I don't know if umpires will have to wear masks or not. I think that would be one thing that would help, but obviously you can't expect the batter to come up and wear a mask or a catcher to wear a mask (under his catcher's mask) during a game."
The current version of the new rulebook does not ask that umpires wear masks as they stand behind the catcher, although it does encourage distancing when possible and demands that they complete COVID-19 education before the season and during.
Posey will be at the greatest risk of exposure on a nightly basis, with Brandon Belt also sticking out from most regular fielders, and not just because the first baseman is the endpoint of so many plays (last year Belt caught more than 1,000 outs at first). When opposing runners reach first, Belt will have to hold them close, often swiping down on throws over to first.
"Obviously we're going to be pretty close over there," he said. "I'll try not to get in anybody's face anyway. I think I can do the same thing I've always done. Obviously we're going to be close but I'll do my best to stay as far away from them as possible while still being able to play my position. There's probably going to be a little less talking over there for me, which I probably shouldn't be doing anyway. Avoiding face-to-face talking will help go a long way."
While Posey expressed serious reservations about playing this season, Belt, in his first interview since March, said he's optimistic about the season.
Belt has spent the hiatus back home in Nacogdoches, Texas, but he said his county wasn't a hot spot in recent weeks like the rest of the state, which was slow to react to COVID-19. Belt said he has spoken to doctors "quite a bit" about the risks and will continue to take precautions.
The Giants are doing the right things during training sessions and continue to mold their plans for the season. But when the games start and wins and losses are on the line, there's only so much that can be done to parts of the game that have been around for a century. The first few actual games later this month will give them a better idea of how to handle nine innings.
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"The landscape is going to continually change and we're going to have to adjust and modify how we do things," Posey said. "That's just the reality of the world we're living in right now."