How many Nationals players are staying in West Palm Beach, Fla., during the coronavirus crisis, and what will their workouts look like? The answers to those questions have changed seemingly every day since Major League Baseball announced the halting of all spring training games Thursday.
At first, the entire team intended to stay in place and continue to hold full-squad workouts - and maybe even scrimmages - during MLB’s hiatus. Then the league notified players they were free to leave town, and it briefly looked like the Nats might wind up dispersing around the country.
But then the players got together and decided they actually wanted to remain together for the long haul. The workouts might not be formal and involve the full squad, but there would be a hub of activity at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches for the foreseeable future.
After the latest twist to this ever-changing story, though, it appears the Nationals’ plan to stick together might be forced to come to an end.
MLB issued a new set of guidelines Sunday, this time stipulating that gatherings of even moderately sized groups of players would no longer be acceptable, based on the advice of the experts attempting to call all the shots around society during this pandemic.
“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,” MLB told all 30 clubs in a memo obtained and published by multiple media outlets. “The risk of a player in a Club facility contracting the virus is real, and we must implement protocols to protect the safety and well-being of our players and staff members.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred plans to hold a conference call today at noon with all clubs and go into more specific detail about the league’s new coronavirus regulations. But no matter the precise wording and eventual outcome, it has become clear MLB is falling in line with so many other entities around American society and shutting down all organized gatherings of moderately sized groups.
The CDC announced Sunday evening it is now recommending all organized events and gatherings of 50 or more people by postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks. With 42 players still officially in big league camp, plus coaches, trainers and other support staff, the Nationals can’t meet those requirements in West Palm Beach right now.
And with the eight-week minimum timeframe for abolishing large groups now being recommended, it’s tough to see how a full-scale resumption of spring training will be happening anytime soon. That also gives players less reason to stick around and continue to work out together.
We’ll hopefully learn more from both MLB and from the Nationals themselves later today. But it sure looks like they’re going to have little choice but to break up the informal camp they were hoping to run, go their separate ways and then hope it won’t be too long before they’re allowed to reconvene again in preparation for a season that still looms way off in the distance.