BALTIMORE - To get a good idea how baseball has changed during the coronavirus pandemic, just take a glimpse inside a quick day trip up Interstate 95 for the Nationals as they took on the Orioles in their second exhibition game of summer training.
The Nationals chartered five buses that left Nationals Park starting at 1 p.m. for the scheduled 6:05 p.m. first pitch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"Everybody was assigned a bus," said Nationals manager Davey Martinez on a Zoom call. "We had probably 14 per bus. We started leaving at 1 p.m. So we staggered so nobody had to wait outside in the sun as we came in. The last, there were two buses for the players, left at 2."
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg said it was an unusual trip to Baltimore, even if it was just for an exhibition game and not a three-game series.
"It felt like something that you would normally do in spring training," said Strasburg on a Zoom call. "I was fortunate enough to experience Viera, Fla., so there wasn't really too many close road trips. So when you drew those cards, you knew you were in for at least a couple hours bus ride."
It was extremely hot outside all day, with the gametime temperature of 97 degrees, and the players had to walk from the buses in Lot A into the stadium and down into the visitor's clubhouse. They also had to be tested a few times before they left D.C. and in Baltimore, to make sure they did not have a fever, even while the heat index made it feel like 105 degrees outside.
"It's pretty intense," Strasburg said. "Today, I'm assuming we wouldn't be doing about a 45-minute, hour bus ride in traffic normally. But you get on the bus and you have to wear a face mask the whole time. Then you get in, and basically they temperature screen you. It's kind of tough to get a good temperature reading when it's 100 degrees outside. But if you pass that, then you come into the clubhouse and everybody's kind of sectioned off. So it's just kind of an adjustment that we have to make. But unfortunately, it's kind of challenging to build team chemistry in an environment like this right now."
Martinez said he works with vice president of clubhouse operations and team travel Rob McDonald, talking with him regularly, to make sure the travel plan is set and everyone gets to where they need to go at the same time, this time separated into five buses.
"Today, everything went smooth," Martinez said. "All the players were assigned a bus, they all got on it. The coaching staff was assigned a bus, they all got on it, and everything went well. But this is something we're going to have to get used to. I told the players for today, I know a lot of times the players would drive themselves to Baltimore. We had no one drive today. I told them I want everybody to come on the bus, go through the protocol. Let's see how this works first, and then we'll go from there.
"We came to the ballpark, got tested, left the ballpark at home, had our temperature checked again, got here, went through protocol here to get into the ballpark. It actually went smooth, other than the long walk to get down there, everything went well."
One big difference that Strasburg noticed is an adjustment for starting pitchers on their days off: They are not expected to go the stadium. He said that will be a strange alteration that will take getting used to.
"I think when you hear they don't want the starting pitchers who aren't pitching in that day to hang around for the game and be a part of the team like you normally would being in the dugout," Strasburg said. "I'm kind of waiting to see how that plays out because that's when you do a lot of your homework and that's when you get a chance to watch things up close."
* Martinez has added minor league hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich to the Nats coaching staff, replacing batting practice pitcher Ali Modami, who opted out this season. Modami was the left-handed batting practice pitcher, which is what Gingrich will do for this season. It also adds a coordinator who has had spent a lot of time working on hitting with top prospects Carter Kieboom and Luis GarcÃa.
"He's been great," Martinez said of Gingrich. "Plus, he's had Carter Kieboom, he's had some of these other guys for a lot of years. I like him. He's going to work with K-Long (hitting coach Kevin Long) and Pat Roessler. He's a good guy, a very knowledgeable young man, and he fits in well here."