Blue Jays’ concerns over coronavirus far greater than baseball

Ben Nicholson-Smith joins Hazel Mae to discuss precautions the Blue Jays are taking in accordance to the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols set by MLB, and to speculate on how long it might take for the players to be ready once the season resumes.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Aside from a few lingering stadium workers, TD Ballpark was eerily quiet by Friday afternoon. Save for the occasional customer wandering up to the box office in search of a ticket refund, there were no fans. The loudspeakers that typically blare music onto the field had fallen quiet and the players who would normally be gearing up for opening day were nowhere to be seen.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Major League Baseball made the unprecedented decision to suspend spring training and delay the beginning of the regular season in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Like everyone in society, Blue Jays players and staff are grappling with a rapidly-changing world. On Friday morning, the team gathered to contemplate a question nobody’s had to answer in decades: What happens when baseball shuts down?

“The concerns that we have are far greater than the Blue Jays,” team president Mark Shapiro said from outside the club’s spring facility. “They’re more focused on our community and broader mankind as we’re all dealing with the uncertainty that lies ahead and doing the best we can to navigate through this challenge.”

Clearly, the stakes are high given the public health concerns posed by the coronavirus. From a baseball standpoint, the schedule change creates all kinds of questions, but answers are proving elusive – at least for now. The season will not begin for at least four weeks, likely more. At some point soon MLB and the MLB Players Association will need to establish new standard working conditions for this period of limbo. Until then the Blue Jays are taking it day by day.

Following their team meeting Friday, Blue Jays players have a day off Saturday and an optional workout Sunday. Another meeting Monday should offer clarity on key questions, including whether players get paid during the stoppage.

Shapiro said the club has followed health protocol for anyone showing warning symptoms but that no Blue Jays player has yet been tested for COVID-19. That could change if necessary, but even pro sports teams have limited access to tests at this stage and none of their players have gotten ill to a worrying degree (Tanner Roark had the flu, but has since recovered).

To avoid the spread of the virus, the Blue Jays are urging players to limit unnecessary contact, wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces. Even if pro athletes are generally in the prime of life, others will be endangered the more the virus spreads.

“The only way to really make it less abstract and more real is to think of their mothers, think about their fathers, think about their grandparents, think about kids that have compromised immune systems,” Shapiro said. “And there’s an obligation that when they feel symptoms, regardless of a dry cough or a sore throat that they communicate immediately.”

Beyond their players, the Blue Jays are urging their employees to work from home whenever possible. While this would typically be a busy time for amateur draft coverage, team scouts are no longer flying as a precaution. Eventually, MLB officials may have to consider delaying the draft, which takes place in early June. At the very least, travel restrictions for scouts plus cancelled college and high school games would result in a draft like no other.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays anticipate taking a closer look at the many stadium operations event staff whose livelihood depends on the baseball season. But at this point, just one day after the MLB announcement, there are no concrete plans to assist those workers.

“Their welfare is certainly one of the things that we’re dealing with,” Shapiro said.

The Blue Jays don’t anticipate any issues for employees crossing the Canada-U.S. border, according to Shapiro. Given the severity of the situation, the Blue Jays are allowing players to leave the club’s spring site if they prefer to do so.

“If there’s any player that has concerns over family, that thinks that being here is not the right place to be, we’re supportive of them leaving and being with their family,” Shapiro said. “We do consider our players and staff to be a large family, so we’re doing the best we can just to maintain the level of communication and the understanding and the level of support as best as we possibly can through uncertainty. And this is a lot of uncertainty.”


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