Transpose Friday afternoon’s action from Oriole Park at Camden Yards to somewhere like the team’s spring training home in Florida and it wouldn’t have been anything remarkable — bullpen sessions, live batting practice, infield drills and later fly balls for the outfielders.
It’s the circumstances they’re being held in — beginning Independence Day weekend and with a host of COVID-19-related protocols — that joined the Baltimore skyline as the backdrop for the first day of summer camp workouts for the Orioles on Friday.
“When you’re out on the field, it feels normal,” manager Brandon Hyde said on a video call Friday. “It’s definitely different in the clubhouse. It’s different in the coaches’ room. There’s just a lot more protocols that we’ve all bought into to really make this a safe, healthy season, and do everything we can to keep us safe as well as the players and the coaches. There’s different hoops to go through that we’ve never had to deal with before.”
Friday’s workouts for the 45 players invited to camp — with reliever Evan Phillips added to the list ahead of the first day — featured staggered workouts for small groups of players and a host of new things behind the scenes.
“This is definitely the most odd, just random weirdest thing that I’ve ever encountered on the baseball field,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “I think it’s going to start to feel more normal the longer we are under all these protocols and guidelines, and that’s kind of my hope, that we develop some sort of routine where this becomes our normal for the time being.”
Players reported through a check-in trailer in the parking lot near Home Plate Plaza at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and the pitchers went down the third base line to the visitor’s dugout while the position players used the traditional Orioles clubhouse on the first-base side.
While Hyde said everyone he expected at camp was in attendance Friday, he said he wasn’t allowed to say whether any players or staff tested positive for COVID-19 during intake testing Wednesday. MLB announced 38 positive tests from the first wave Friday, with 31 players and seven coaches testing positive. Nineteen clubs had positive tests, the league said.
Pitcher Wade LeBlanc, who pitched live batting practice with Thomas Eshelman to a group of hitters that included Chris Davis, Renato Núñez, and José Iglesias, said there was more than plenty of distance between stalls. Players stayed “more than 6 feet apart,” as the physical distancing guidelines call for. There are no tables in the food room, where players are required to take the prepackaged food out of the room. There are no couches in the clubhouse, and no areas for players to congregate.
“It’s pretty weird, to say the least,” LeBlanc said.
Where the on-deck circle would be for games, there’s a temporary hand-washing station for players to use coming onto and leaving the field. Reliever Paul Fry used the one by the third-base dugout for nearly a full minute after his simulated game. Davis called the hand-washing stations being on the field “kind of weird.”
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On the field and in the dugout, the Orioles coaches wore masks. Pitching coach Doug Brocail had one as he stood behind the screen for the simulated games, and coaches who were feeding fungo hitters wore gloves.
The day began with individual work including throwing programs and bullpen sessions for pitchers, Hyde said. That will be the plan for the next few days as players get used to their work, with those who are scheduled to face hitters coming in later in the day when position players are set to work at the ballpark.
Hyde said the Orioles would try to keep camp competitive, with as many intrasquad games as possible as they look to pare their 45-man list to 30 by July 24. It will depend on players staying safe and following the league’s protocols on and off the field.
There was a hug or two as players got re-acquainted, but Hyde and LeBlanc said the Orioles were all-in on the protocols for the shortened season.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about staying safe and really taking care of ourselves for the duration of this spring training or summer training and the next couple of months of the season,” Hyde said. “But we’ve had a lot of conversations as a team, as a coaching staff, to really be smart on and off the field and follow all the guidelines; handle all the protocols and do everything that is asked. So far today, we’ve done all those things and feel good about it going forward.”
Said Davis: “There’s a lot of responsibility on the players’ part to make sure that we’re following these protocols, we’re staying within these guidelines and we’re helping each other out. If you happen to get the virus and you’re doing everything the right way, that’s one thing. But if you’re doing things that you shouldn’t be doing and you get sick, then you’re going to have to answer to a clubhouse full of guys.”
Around the horn
Phillips was added to the roster this week, Hyde said, as he progresses from spring training elbow soreness. … Hyde said all the team’s Dominican players had just arrived and were still going through the testing protocol. … The following position players took part in workouts during the open portion: Davis, Iglesias, Núñez, Rio Ruiz, Pat Valaika, Dilson Herrera, Andrew Velazquez, Richie Martin, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart, Chance Sisco and Bryan Holaday.