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Orioles players waiting in Sarasota as MLB bars teams from holding large workouts amid coronavirus pandemic

With new guidance coming from Major League Baseball on Sunday as to how teams and players should proceed through the league-wide cancellation of spring training games and two-week delay of the start of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Orioles players are trying to figure out the best and safest way to prepare for the season while honoring the nationwide calls to avoid large gatherings to prevent the virus’ spread.

“Our general concern right now is the wellbeing of everyone,” reliever Richard Bleier said in a text message. “This is bigger than baseball, with a lot of people already affected. We are going to stay ready with the hopes of this passing and getting back to the game we love. Until then, we are trying to stay safe and hoping everyone else does too.”

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Guidance from the league changed Friday, the first day after the league’s decision to push back the start of the season. At first, players were instructed to stay put, as teams, including the Orioles, thought it best to limit unnecessary travel and keep players around the team’s medical staffs.

But hours later, they were given permission to go home, an indication that it might be longer than a two-week delay in the regular season starting. While some teams, including the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates, all ordered their players home, the Orioles’ major leaguers have largely remained in the Sarasota, Florida, area waiting to find out what they can and can’t do.

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A memorandum from the league reported by multiple outlets, including The Athletic, said that talks were continuing with the Major League Baseball Players Association on how they can agree to proceed, and clubs would be informed at noon Monday of the protocols, but “the strong recommendation from our infectious disease and public health experts is that clubs should avoid all activities in which players congregate in significant numbers or are otherwise unable to practice the ‘social distancing’ protocols recommended by the CDC.”

The memo says that all nonroster players should return home, as happened with the Orioles’ minor leaguers Saturday, with spring training complexes open to players on the 40-man major league roster. Those facilities, at least for the time being, must be open to major league players who want to use it, with limited staff and no requirement for normal services like meals.

“Until we develop appropriate protocols to minimize the risks to players (which we are actively working on), clubs are not permitted to hold or organize any group workouts, practices, skill or conditioning sessions, or other player activities at their facilities," the memo reads. "To the extent activities are permitted in the future, those activities must be conducted pursuant to protocols that we will issue that are designed to slow the transmission of the virus — for example, limiting the number of coaches and club staff who may work with players at any one time, staggering the time period that players are in the same area of the facility, and implementing hygiene and social distancing practices.”

As that wait continues, Orioles players are getting their work in however they can. A group of pitchers including John Means, Shawn Armstrong and Tanner Scott posted on social media that they were throwing off a mound at Sarasota High School on Saturday.

In less formal workouts, outfielder Austin Hays posted video on Instagram of backyard catch with pitcher Chandler Shepherd and minor league infielder Rylan Bannon, complete with Hays jumping into the canal near their house to retrieve a baseball and practicing robbing home runs over the fence separating their yard from the neighbors. Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. posted that he was in what appeared to be a hotel gym.

Balancing staying safe and getting ready for the season, as Bleier said, could take on many different forms. While MLB said last week that the earliest the season could start would be April 9, the league seems to be bracing for a longer delay than that.

On the minor league side, players were sent home Saturday after a brief moment of confusion. Minor league players get a per diem, albeit smaller than major leaguers, as well as a housing allowance during spring training. They don’t get paid for spring training, however, and their already-low salaries only kick in when the season begins.

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