SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles slugger Chris Davis was ushered out of the team’s semi-quarantined clubhouse Tuesday afternoon to meet with reporters and speak for his teammates about the measures that Major League Baseball and other major sports leagues are taking to protect against the growing threat from the coronavirus.
The MLB response has been fairly basic to this point. The most visible aspect of it at the Ed Smith Stadium complex was the outdoor news conference with the media — who are temporarily prohibited from entering the locker room, matching protocol in the NBA, NHL and MLS — instructed to remain at least six feet away from Davis and any other players made available.
To hear Davis and some teammates tell it, there is more hand-washing than hand-wringing over the spreading pandemic.
“I definitely don’t like that term, but you can’t let it run how you live,’’ Davis said. “You can be cautious and take certain measures to make sure that you’re protected, but at the same time you’ve got to live your life. We have a job to do. We have a responsibility, not only to the organization but to our fans to go out there and do our job. We’ve been faced with a lot of challenges here in the past … and I think the general focus of our clubhouse is to go out there and continue to do that.”
No doubt, there will be more to come from MLB if the situation continues to worsen. There has been speculation that some of the major sports will either postpone games or play them without fans in the stands, a situation Baltimore fans remember well from the Freddie Gray unrest in 2015.
“I hope not," Davis said. “They’re going to do everything they can to protect the players and the fans, but I hope that it doesn’t turn into us missing games or pushing scheduled games back. I saw just a few minutes ago on ESPN or one of the outlets that the NBA was talking about playing games without fans in the seats. We don’t even want to go down that road again.”
Some organizations have already started barring fans. Johns Hopkins did not allow spectators to attend NCAA Division III basketball games on its campus this past weekend, the Ivy League canceled its men’s basketball tournament Monday and all professional soccer games in Spain, France and Portugal, as well as some in Germany and a European Championship qualifying match in Slovakia, will be played in empty stadiums because of the outbreak.
Infielder Richie Martin said he hadn’t heard of that possibility and hopes that it doesn’t become a reality.
“It would be a little disappointing," Martin said. “Whatever it is to keep everyone safe, that’s the No. 1 priority. We want to play in front of our home crowd and on the road, but if that’s what needs to be done, then that’s probably the best way to go about it.”
Manager Brandon Hyde acknowledged the awkward nature of the two-arms-length interview restriction, but said that the team is ready to do whatever the experts decide is the best way to keep the virus from invading big league clubhouses.
“People know a lot more than I do higher up," he said. “I’m going to follow the regulations that MLB put out for us and just hoping for the best going forward. It’s something that we’re going to stick to right now and follow what they tell us to do.”
The players are still processing what was handed down, but those that spoke Tuesday said that they would were supportive of the attempt by MLB to be proactive in dealing with the crisis.
“I think guys are still kind of trying to figure it out," Davis said. “Obviously, we had the announcement several days ago that there’s going to be hand sanitizer everywhere, even more so than there already was, and to make sure to practice personal hygiene to the fullest. And, also, with the interaction with fans.”
Instead of the occasional pregame autograph at the railing, which is one of the things that gives spring training its charm, Davis said that teams have encouraged players to carry signed baseballs with them onto the field and flip them to fans.
“The way we have been going about that,” he said, “once the game starts just taking a ball out there and tossing a ball instead of mingling and shaking hands and doing all that stuff. It’s unusual. It’s definitely something we’re not accustomed to, but I guess if MLB sees it necessary for the time being, we’ll abide.
“That was kind of an idea that they presented to us a few days ago when we started talking about interaction with the fans, and making sure you’re not coughing on anybody or sharing germs. You don’t want to exclude any fans or neglect them.”
Despite the furor, Davis and Martin said that over the past few days the worldwide coronavirus outbreak has not been a particularly hot topic of conversation in the clubhouse.
“We haven’t really gotten in depth with it," Martin said. “Mainly, just being smart about it.”
Of course, the subject is pretty hard to ignore, since it has spread fear throughout the world and sent global financial markets into free-fall.
“It’s on every news channel," Davis said. “We see the headlines. We know it’s being talked about in the community and the general public. For us, it’s more just doing everything that we can to keep ourselves and our fans in a safe environment.”