Giants

Giants return to Oracle Park, embrace 'new norm' on first day of camp

Giants return to Oracle Park, embrace 'new norm' on first day of camp

The first nerve-wracking moment came at home, soon after I had finished my coffee. For the first time this season, reporters were allowed at Oracle Park, and that meant wearing a real outfit. 

No more writing from the couch in Lululemon sweats or basketball shorts. The ballpark requires real pants, a test that thankfully was passed.

As for the rest of the day? Well, it was weird. Good, but weird.

The general consensus among reporters was that it was great to be back at the ballpark, watching players and discussing actual baseball, not labor wars or health possibilities. But there's no getting around how different everything is right now. 

A team official was driving into the Oracle Park lot Friday morning when he suddenly hit the brakes. He reached down and grabbed a mask, putting it on before being around other team employees. There were masks everywhere Friday, and that was a huge positive. The Giants are taking this extremely seriously, as they must. They worked out in three different groups, with an equal split of pitchers and position players in each. They used both clubhouses to dress. Players elbow-bumped manager Gabe Kapler as they walked in, keeping their distance. 

In the three hours I was there, I didn't see anything that looked at all reckless. The Giants are trying to embrace their new normal.

"I think we need to stop kind of holding onto the past and understand what the new norm is and adjust to that new norm," pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. "Until we're told differently that's the way it's going to be. I think you have to put all the excuses aside and do what you need to do."

Everyone involved did that Friday, from players, coaches and staffers, to the media and the PR employees running the show, to the security guards stationed all over the yard. It was a weird day, but a positive start. Here's a running diary of it all from a beat writer's perspective (there's a picture version on my Instagram, which is linked above):

10:45 a.m. -- While waiting in line on the Embarcadero, I scan a QR code held up by a team employee and my phone loads a health questionnaire. This is the first step toward getting into the park every day. Later, as I walk through the gate, a security guard checks to make sure there were no red flags in my answers.  

11:03 -- A Giants employee drives past reporters on a golf cart, the back full of packages. He's trying to figure out where to go because his usual gate is closed. There were a few team employees who got lost because so many traditional walkways and doors are now blocked off to limit how many areas have to be cleaned. (By the way, this probably is not the season to send cards and balls to the ballpark hoping for a signature.)

11:07 -- I sign a waiver and get my daily credential. A hand sanitizer station is a couple of feet away from all of that. I've been covering the Giants full-time since 2012 and for the first time, I enter through the Second Street Gate. This is the media entrance this year, and my temperature is taken as my bag is checked. That's part of the daily routine for everyone entering the park. 

11:10 -- After walking up a few ramps I see the field for the first time and immediately hear Flo Rida's "My House." It's somewhat comforting to know that even in a year where the whole world has changed, baseball players still go back to their staples for workout music. 

11:24 -- As we all walk to the press box -- which now has seats that are more than six feet apart from others and an auxiliary area in the stands -- I stop to take a picture of a group heading from the cages to the clubhouse. You can see the Brandons, Evan Longoria, Donovan Solano ... uhh, I think also Joey Rickard and a couple other guys? It becomes apparent that it's going to be harder than ever to identify players doing drills far from the press box. 

12:00 p.m. -- Reporters are taken out to Triples Alley to get a better view -- and some sun! We get a good look at the scoreboard, where Kai Correa's daily schedule has moved from clubhouse TVs to a $10 million screen. There are cages in the left-field corner and also Triples Alley. The Giants might run drills in all three corners of the park at some point to maximize space. 

12:05 -- A group of relievers comes out to play catch. They're all wearing masks while walking, although they are taken off as they throw and run sprints. 

12:34 -- Ron Wotus meets with some coaches in center field, which answers one question that reporters have had. Some older coaches in other camps have been told they can't work on the field because of health concerns, but the 59-year-old Wotus looked to have no restrictions. Kapler said Wotus and Correa briefed the team during a Zoom call Thursday to go over how they're going to handle drills in a new environment. 

12:45 -- Pablo Sandoval arrives and brings his trademark energy as he crosses the field. The Giants will have to figure out a new way to celebrate with high-fives and hugs banned. Brandon Crawford said he's confident Sandoval and Hunter Pence will come up with creative solutions. 

12:55 -- In the concourse behind the press box, a security officer starts chasing after two guys walking up a ramp. They're not allowed to be there, he yells. Turns out the two are high-ranking members of the front office who are headed back from the field. I'm telling you, security is TIGHT. 

1:05 -- Samardzija becomes the first Giant to hold a Zoom press conference. He sits in front of a black tarp with an amused look on his face as reporters try to unmute themselves to ask questions. One asks him which habit is going to be the hardest to break.

"The spitting is going to be tough," he said. "When you're working and you're athletic, everyone knows there's a film that builds up in your mouth. That'll be tough, but again it's nothing that's hard. For some guys, it will be tough to not lick your fingers."

MLB is allowing pitchers to carry a wet rag to the mound to help with moisture.

"Water doesn't really help anyway," Samardzija said, smiling. 

Later, he drops a hell of a quote when asked about playing in front of fans. 

1:35 -- Crawford follows Samardzija on the call. 

"It definitely didn't feel like a normal day at the ballpark," he said. "I guess I'm used to this because I've been working out down at Scottsdale Stadium. This is kind of the schedule we had been working with down there in small groups, down there it was groups of four players at a time, throwing, hitting, running and taking groundballs. Basically what we did today other than groundballs."

Crawford confirms that the ban on spitting is going to take some getting used to.

"After we were running, that's something me and Longo and Belt were all talking about," he said. "We all kind of wanted to but we had to hold it back."

1:57 -- As I walk out of the park, I see some players from the second group heading down the street back to their hotel. They look like they've had a normal day, although there were other adjustments behind the scenes. Some found out Friday that while showering is allowed, you have to bring your own soap to the ballpark. Wall dispensers that were shared by multiple people are all a thing of the past. 

4:05 -- Kapler does his usual press conference by getting on Zoom from his office. He's wearing a mask still because other players and coaches are around the clubhouse. 

Kapler informs the media that Luis Madero has tested positive for COVID-19 and that Buster Posey missed the day for personal reasons. He says Tony Watson, who was said to be a little behind others because of spring shoulder tightness, "looked great."

[RELATED: MLB virus test results show importance of Giants' measures]

The day was unlike anything Kapler has gone through in his career, but he was happy with how it went. 

"One of the things that we asked of our players is to be flexible and understand that this camp is not going to be perfect because we don't really have any precedent for what we're all experiencing," he said. "It was much different than anything I've ever experienced, and at the same time, there was a lot of excitement about stepping on the field. It was a beautiful day at the ballpark. I think everybody was really genuinely happy to be there. We got a lot of good work done."

Brawl between Ramon Laureano, Astros provides reminder for Giants

Brawl between Ramon Laureano, Astros provides reminder for Giants

MLB teams have spent the last couple of weeks reinforcing their health and safety protocols, and as the Giants embarked on this three-city trip, they made some changes, including to the types of masks that some members of the traveling party were wearing on flights. 

Every move is made with safety in mind, but on the field, it can still be hard to remember the backdrop of this season. That was the case Sunday, when A's outfielder Ramon Laureano charged the Astros dugout after hitting coach Alex Cintron reportedly made a vile comment about his mother. The ensuing fracas was a nightmare image for the league in an age of social distancing. Laureano is expected to get suspended, and Cintron could face a lengthy suspension for taunting a player into the incident.

A day later, as Gabe Kapler prepared for his turn with the Astros, the manager said the brawl was used by the Giants as a kickstart for another discussion about being responsible. He spoke to his large coaching staff Monday. 

"I think it's a reminder to be especially aware and sensitive that right now everybody has their stress levels at their highest, because not only are we combining the stress of a major league baseball season and a modified shortened sprint as it is, but we're also doing it under conditions that we've never seen before," Kapler said. "Just the awareness that we're probably already a little bit emotionally charged will help us stay cool under conditions that would normally force us to move out onto the field. 

"I think most of this is about just a heightened level of sensitivity and awareness that we're already pretty stressed out, and leading with a little bit of empathy and understanding, I think that'll put us in a good spot."

The Giants have already played seven games against the Dodgers without incident and shouldn't have any issues with the Astros. Aside from president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, the former Dodgers GM, they don't have anyone who could have a real beef with the sign-stealing scandal that was the biggest story of this past offseason. 

[RELATED: Minor trade is milestone moment for front office]

Some players have said it's extremely easy to hear conversations and expletives in these games being played without fans. The Astros have already had benches-clearing incidents with the Dodgers and A's, but Kapler said he hadn't heard anything thus far that stood out too much. 

"I've seen less jawing with the other team than I would normally see," he said. "There's kind of the same level of interaction with umpires that we've seen in the past. I think one thing that we've been considering is what's the best strategy there, since it's so easy to hear what we're saying to the umpire and to each other in the dugout. Sometimes it has to do with just kind of dialing our voices down a little bit."

Giants vs. Astros live stream: How to watch MLB games online, on TV

Giants vs. Astros live stream: How to watch MLB games online, on TV

The Giants continue their road trip Monday as they head to Houston to face the Astros for a three-game series. 

The Giants (7-10) are coming off a series where they dropped two of three to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it's the Astros (6-9) that are reeling. Houston has lost five games in a row, and were just swept by the A's in Oakland.

This is the first time the Giants have faced the Astros this season. Logan Webb (1-0, 2.13 ERA) will start the first game of the series for San Francisco.

Here's how you can watch the Giants play the Astros online (download the MyTeams app here!) and on TV:

Monday, Aug. 10

When: Giants Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 6:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Bay Area
Stream: MyTeams app

Tuesday, Aug. 11

When: Giants Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 6:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Bay Area
Stream: MyTeams app

Wednesday, Aug. 12

When: Giants Pregame Live at 3:30 p.m. PT -- First pitch at 4:10 p.m. PT
TV: NBC Sports Bay Area
Stream: MyTeams app

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