Health has circled back as the prime concern of the 2020 Major League Baseball season. The league has put together an extensive, but imperfect, operations manual to try to manage the game during the coronavirus pandemic. There is a large reliance on individuals to take care of daily tasks, few enforcement mechanisms and no threshold for the ultimate question: what would compel the league to stop the season once it starts?
The complications ahead were defined Tuesday. Minutes after the Major League Baseball Players Association announced a deal was reached, a report came out that Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies had tested positive for coronavirus. Wednesday, when everyone was digesting the 101-page document, news emerged that a Miami Marlins player and staff member tested positive.
The expectation is not for zero positive tests. It is for maximum mitigation. The operations manual stipulates who can go where, what can be used, what happens if someone tests positive (but not what happens if that occurs in the middle of a game).
It even has a section for in-plane lavatory use.
Here are the highlights from the document:
-- People necessary for games are divided into three tiers. Tier 1 includes players. They will be tested every other day for coronavirus, mostly by saliva tests, plus have their temperature checked twice a day at the park. They are expected to check their temperature and fill out an updated “symptom and exposure questionnaire” about their health at the same time every day before leaving their residence.
-- Tests results are expected in 24-48 hours via the league’s lab in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is typically reserved for doping tests.
-- Players are discouraged but not “prohibited” from showering on site. The manual recommends removing every other shower head or handle and constructing full dividers between showers.
-- Using a sauna is prohibited.
-- Cold and hot tubs -- originally expected to not be allowed -- are, but under strict circumstances. Only one player may use the tub at a time, it can only occur before or after a game, and stainless steel tubs must be drained, disinfected, and re-filled after each individual use. Plus this, “Players must wear a cloth mask over a standard surgical mask while using hydrotherapy and cryotherapy units to ensure that the efficacy of masks is not diminished due to moisture exposure.”
-- MLB says it will “strictly enforce” compliance of all outlined social-distancing, testing and general health protocols. However, it does not provide a consequence should a violation occur.
-- On the field, the designated hitter will be used in both leagues.
-- Pitchers will receive a wet rag for grip and to prevent them from licking their fingers. “Water is the only substance allowed on the rag.” Former major-league reliever Jeff Nelson immediately tweeted, “Good luck hitters. Water won’t be the only thing on that rag.”
-- The three-batter minimum is in place.
-- There will be no pregame exchange of lineup cards.
-- Players, umpires and other on-field personnel are expected to practice physical distancing “to the extent possible.”
-- First and third base coaches “should remain in or behind the Coach’s Box and shall not approach a baserunner, fielder or umpire on-field.”
-- All non-playing personnel must wear face coverings at all times in the dugout and bullpen.
-- Spitting is prohibited.
-- Any baseball that is put in play and touched by multiple players will be removed and exchanged for a new baseball. After an out, players are strongly discouraged from throwing the ball around the infield.
-- Fighting and instigating fights “are strictly prohibited.” And if there is a fight? “Violation of these rules will result in severe discipline consistent with past precedent, which discipline shall not be reduced or prorated based on the length of the season.”
-- There will be a separate COVID-19 related injured list.
The document goes on. It answers dozens of small questions. It represents hope for a season. It guarantees nothing.
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