If the final simulated game of the spring had been televised, Giants fans would have seen plenty of familiar faces who will play a huge part in the 2020 season.
Johnny Cueto was on the mound. Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval and Mike Yastrzemski were in the lineups. Manager Gabe Kapler walked from dugout to dugout between innings, checking on both sides, and bench coach Kai Correa stepped onto the infield during breaks to give instruction. Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris sat a few rows back of the plate, surveying the action.
But the most important person in the park in a season unlike any other might have been the man standing on the top step of the home dugout, a black mask over his face and a baseball flipping from one hand to the other as he kept a close watch on every player, coach and staffer involved. He is the Infection Control Prevention Coordinator -- ICPC for short -- and on a final Zoom call with reporters, before exhibition games start, Kapler brought him up.
"I think it's worth calling out L.J. Petra in particular," Kapler said. "He's kind of been the officer of keeping us all in line and ensuring that we're adhering to Major League Baseball health and safety protocols."
Petra has been with the organization for 12 years, grinding as a trainer for every affiliate from Low-A to Triple-A. He spent the last two seasons as a minor league coordinator and this offseason he was promoted to Dave Groeschner's big-league staff. But Petra's first year in the big leagues took an unexpected twist in mid-March when COVID-19 shut down the sport.
When baseball returned it came with a 110-page operations manual from MLB, which demands each club designate an employee as the ICPC to ensure compliance with all the new health and safety protocols. The manual says it's "critical" that this person is "effective and empowered" and includes a lengthy job description covering two full pages.
The ICPC, MLB writes, should be well versed in "infection control, public health practices, and proper hygiene." They are tasked with serving as a resource on infection prevention for all players and staff. They must ensure proper screening for COVID-19 but also create a "culture of compliance." They should periodically update policies and procedures on hygiene and cleaning, and constantly track the "availability and supply of cleaning supplies and PPE."
In short, the ICPC is in charge of keeping a camp of 60 players -- plus dozens of coaches and staffers -- in line with new protocols, and making sure everyone continues to stay on board during the season.
"It's a pretty lengthy job description that MLB put together, and this is a tough job for anybody in the league. But for us personally, we felt that L.J. was really well equipped for it," Groeschner said. "He's got great organizational skills, good communication skills. He's really high energy, so he's everywhere. In the work he has done in the organization over the years, we felt really good about putting him in that position. He's taken it and run with it and done a very good job."
In a sport where every piece of data is carefully tracked, it remains to be seen what a successful 2020 season will look like when it comes to the coronavirus. MLB, for obvious reasons, has never wanted to set a baseline for the number of positives that would be allowable while the season continued. So how do you tell if a team is doing a good job with health and safety?
For the Giants, they can do so in two ways. It has been exactly two weeks since the organization last announced a positive test, and it appears the Giants will head to Oakland for tonight's first exhibition game with no players or coaches under restrictions. The Giants have had just three known positives since testing began at Oracle Park, and all three occurred during initial screening. To the best of their ability, they have run a safe camp.
The second measuring stick is more anecdotal. Players and coaches have said repeatedly that they feel safe at the ballpark. This was all weird at first, but the training and clubhouse staffs have gotten everyone on the same page.
"The players have done a really nice job making this part of the normal routine," Kapler said. "It's streamlined. The tests are coming back quickly now. I think you guys have seen the results and they've been very encouraging and promising. So far, so good."
Of course, the hardest part is yet to come. Traveling will put a tremendous strain on the system, but the Giants are hoping they can mitigate risks. They will continue to ask players and coaches not to leave the hotel, and seats will be assigned for the entire season on buses and flights to make contact tracing easier. The Giants will have the ability to do quick testing in road cities if there are concerns about a player when they land.
Issues will still pop up but Groeschner is confident the Giants can find solutions, just as they did at Oracle Park, unexpected home of a second spring training.
"Three weeks ago, if you had told me that we were going to be eating out in the garden (in center field) and have a weight room in the parking lot, I would have said this isn't going to work," Groeschner said. "But it's been super smooth."
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Spreading out at Oracle Park was just the beginning. Players are sanitizing their hands after they play catch and any used balls are immediately put in a bucket to be cleaned. The facility must be checked every morning for red flags. Testing for the coronavirus takes place every day and the testing area is constantly checked to make sure it's up to standards. Masks are worn by coaches and staffers at just about all times, and players have been wearing them during drills (particularly indoor hitting), meetings, and even while doing Zoom media sessions. If a question comes up, Petra has the operations manual on his phone and pulls it up.
"A lot of this is just cleaning protocols. What are we doing in the training room, the clubhouse, the weight room," Groeschner said. "We're treating players in the training room with N95 masks and gloves on, so he's just making sure we're following those protocols for every part of the organization."
Petra is hardly alone, of course. While he's the designated point man, the Giants put together a committee to deal with health and safety that includes trainer Anthony Reyes, physical therapist Tony Reale and clubhouse manager, Brad Grems. They even brought in their trainers from Sacramento, Richmond and San Jose, with the latter two helping with the daily screening of media and other Tier 3 individuals at the Second Street gate.
It is a massive undertaking, one that is all completely new to the organization, but the Giants felt they were prepared to run a camp at Oracle Park in part because of how successful they were at Scottsdale Stadium after opening back up to players in May. That process also made Petra the perfect fit for the ICPC position. He put together a 12-page PowerPoint on how the Giants could safely reopen Scottsdale Stadium and Greoschner said Petra and Reyes "did a great job of putting our protocols together in Arizona."
The Giants brought all of those ideas to Oracle Park, and many of the team's veterans were familiar with them after working out in Scottsdale. On the first weekend of camp, Brandon Crawford said the vibe at Oracle Park wasn't actually that strange.
"I'm used to this because I've been working out down at Scottsdale Stadium," he said.
The buy-in from the veterans has made it easier for the staff to keep pressing younger players to follow the new rules, and that will continue when the regular season starts. One of Petra's duties is making sure players are socially distancing in the dugout and coaches are wearing masks, and that will take on extra importance when 30 players and a big staff enter Dodger Stadium on Thursday night for the opener.
It's a game that seemed like it might not happen a few weeks ago, but the Giants have gotten this far in the attempt to play through a pandemic, and Groeschner is confident as Opening Day approaches.
"It's going to be tough, no doubt about it," he said. "But I think we have a great chance to succeed."