MLB tightens protocols following outbreaks

After a coronavirus outbreak slammed the rosters of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, Major League Baseball added new provisions to its safety protocols, threatening suspensions for repeated or flagrant violations, according to USA TODAY Sports.

The newspaper’s website reported that MLB now requires players and staff to wear masks in the dugout, clubhouse and at all public places on the road as well as in the hotel.

MLB’s six-page memo, released Wednesday to the 30 teams, said the clubs are required to reduce traveling parties to personnel essential to playing games, and the workers must be approved by a compliance officer.

Players are prohibited from gathering in hotel rooms, so teams are expected to prepare a room within the hotel that will allow gathering with proper physical distancing. While eating in the room, players are encouraged not to talk to each other.

The new rules include:

  • On road trips, teams are to provide four buses with physical-distancing measures in place, with no side-by-side seating. On planes, players and staff are prohibited from having more than two individuals in a row of seats. They are also prohibited from leaving their seats - except to go to the bathroom - and are required to wear N95/KN95 respirators on the plane. Cloth face coverings are not allowed.

  • Any player or staff member must notify their compliance officer if they intend to leave the road hotel. The officer decides if the trip complies with protocol.

  • Teams are now required to provide outdoor spaces for visiting players to sit. Players are also encouraged to eat outdoors instead of inside the clubhouse.

  • When the team isn’t traveling, players are prohibited from going to bars, lounges, malls or any place large groups gather.

  • Players and staff who are isolated because of a positive test are not allowed to leave hotel rooms under any circumstances. If they do, they face discipline.

The memo says: “We recognize that these changes place additional burdens and restrictions on players and staff, but if we desire to play, they are necessary to limit infections and, if someone does test positive, to keep the virus from spreading.

“The behavior of every covered individual affects the players and staff on his or her team, and on other clubs as well.

“Everyone must be accountable for their own conduct because the careless or reckless actions of a few can impact the health and well-being of everyone.’‘

MLB said reckless activity will be punished and players and staff that violate the protocols are risking suspension from participating in the 2020 season.

The Cardinals haven’t played a game since July 29, when they were shut out in Minnesota. Series in Detroit and Milwaukee had to be rescheduled because of a COVID-19 outbreak that had 13 players and staff testing positive.

The Cardinals were isolated in their Milwaukee hotel room until they were allowed to return to St. Louis. Cardinals pitchers tried to get some work in by throwing baseballs into a mattress during isolation in their hotel rooms.

The team returned to workouts Wednesday in St. Louis and resumes its schedule Friday at home against the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals play 55 games in 52 days.

“It was literally a breath of fresh air,’’ Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said during a video interview after Wednesday’s workout. “You’re in a hotel room for six straight days and you get outside, it’s a nice feeling to feel that sun and move around and get a little sweat going.

“Get back to seeing guys enjoy the passion and doing what they love to do. It was nice to get back out on the field, I can tell you that.”

The Marlins had 18 players and staff with positive tests, and after a nine-day layoff, resumed their schedule Tuesday against the Orioles in Camden Yards.

The layoff hasn’t bothered the Marlins, who missed series with the Orioles and Nationals last week.

The Marlins beat the Orioles 4-0 in their return Tuesday night and swept a doubleheader Wednesday, winning 1-0 and 2-1 in games that each lasted seven innings under a new rule implemented this year to save pitching.

“It’s a little eye-opener,’’ Marlins manager Don Mattingly said on a Zoom video with reporters. “Seeing guys we haven’t seen. Some of our guys, we don’t know what we are going to get. Some of our guys have been sitting around for a while.’‘

Marlins pitcher Sterling Sharp made his big-league debut against the Orioles and said the team has a special chemistry.

“You could feel the vibe for all the new guys,’’ Sharp said. “Everyone is excited. We want to push forward.’‘