Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has played a game with no fans inside the ballpark. He’s eclipsed 50 home runs, earned a win on the mound, received the richest contract in franchise history and endured the longest hitless streak for a position player to start a season.
Nothing, however, can compare to what he experienced today at Camden Yards.
So many changes implemented to keep everyone safe during the coronavirus pandemic. The social distancing, the masks, the hand sanitizer stations on the field and in the bullpen area. Pitchers and position players dressing in separate clubhouses. Food prepackaged to grab and go.
“This is definitely the most odd, just random, weirdest thing that I’ve ever encountered on a baseball field,” Davis said this evening in a Zoom conference call with the local media.
“I think it’s going to start to feel more normal the longer we have all these protocols and guidelines, and that’s kind of our hope, that we develop some sort of routine to where this becomes our normal for the time being. But as far as just the setup and everything, I tried to give myself a little bit of a preview or think of what it would look like and try to envision it before I came in, but I just think it’s so much different than I could even have imagined it.
“Just the little details that our training staff has thought of to go through to make sure that we had handwashing stations, sanitize everything, personalize everything, make sure guys aren’t swapping germs or anything like that. It’s a tribute to them on how hard they worked and how much time they spent.”
Davis hit against live pitching today, took ground balls, performed in baserunning drills and worked out. Normal activities for a player that felt so strange in the new environment.
“I think probably the weirdest thing for me is going to be throwing the balls out in between innings or in between just warming guys up and stuff like that,” he said. “I think there’s going to be like a recycling ball station on the field where you toss it and they’ll throw it in a bucket. That to me is going to be the hardest or the biggest adjustment, just the attention to detail of not sharing a ball too much, if that makes any sense.”
Pitchers who threw today wore their orange jerseys with names on the back, but hitters donned black practice T-shirts. To identify them from the press box meant relying on facial recognition or the ability to read a number on the back of a batting helmet.
Among the position players on the field while the media had access were Davis, Renato Núñez, Rio Ruiz, José Iglesias, Chance Sisco, Bryan Holaday, Richie Martin, Dilson Herrera, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart, Andrew Velazquez and Stevie Wilkerson.
The small media contingent, including four beat writers, was allowed to stay in the press box for two hours, the viewing window changing over the next few days. The Tier 3 group was kept separate from players and other staff - whether in parking lots, the gate entrances or sections of the building.
“It’s definitely a lot different look with the social distancing and everybody having masks on and all that stuff,” Davis said, “but once the action started, it felt pretty normal. We had live BP and kind of a simulated game today. It felt pretty normal once we got on the field.
“It’s good to be back and it’s good to be around the guys.”
Major League Baseball confirmed 38 positive tests for COVID-19 - 31 players and seven coaches. Nineteen teams had positive tests.
Davis wouldn’t speak for his teammates, but he didn’t consider opting out of the season. He didn’t view himself as a high-risk individual or a potential danger to his family.
“I felt like I was off to a good start during the first spring training and I felt like I was headed in the right direction and I wanted to see how that played out,” said Davis, the team’s union representative. “After the way things went down over the last few months with negotiations and all that stuff, I was ready to get back out on the field and ready to start playing again.”
The Orioles won’t judge a player harshly if he opts out. They’ll respect the decision and work around it.
“Me and Mike (Elias) have talked about it,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “It hasn’t come up with our group. I really think it’s up to every individual. It’s a real thing and it’s personal for a lot of people. A lot of people have underlying conditions or age or whatever it may be. I totally understand if somebody did not feel comfortable putting themselves in this situation. I totally get it.
“I know a lot of people that have gotten the virus and I’ve seen the wide spectrum of what it can do. I just think it’s up to the individual and I would be in totally understanding whatever decision they make.”
The Orioles didn’t confirm whether they had anyone test positive for the virus. They’re just trying to make it through the camp and a 60-game season that starts on July 24.
“Right now I think it’s so new, it’s so fresh,” Davis said. “Obviously with the mass group of guys that’s going to be tested day in and day out, we’re going to have some positives. I think that’s something that we expected. But as far as my level of concern, I don’t really know right now. I think it’s too new. I’m glad that we’re attempting to play 60 games.
“It’s just going to be tough to navigate this whole thing with the virus spiking in certain places throughout the country. ... But I’m excited that we’re at least giving it a shot and we’re going to try to play some games.”
The responsibility of taking all of the necessary precautions and adhering to the rules and protocols falls upon the players. At the ballpark and after they return home and to their hotel rooms.
“That’s something that even Hyder and I talked about earlier today,” Davis said. “It’s really going to come down to the guys. There’s no doubt that our training staff and the Orioles organization has done an outstanding job of implementing the social distancing, putting up barriers between us and the fans. And obviously we’re not going to have fans at the games, but just making sure that it’s a safe and secure environment for us and it’s a clean environment for us.
“But there’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of accountability on the players’ part to make sure that we’re following the protocols, that we’re staying within these guidelines and we’re helping each other out. So 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.
“I think guys are pretty confident right now, seeing the measures that teams have taken to provide a safe environment and to educate the players. ... But I think we’re just going to have to play it by ear. I don’t think it’s reasonable to think guys just aren’t going to test positive. It’s going to happen. When you have this many people from as many different areas of the country and international coming together, it’s going to happen. But I think as long as we don’t see a large spike and everybody’s kind of managing it responsibly, I think we’ll be all right.”
Davis kept his teammates in the negotiating loop as ownership and the Major League Baseball Players Association battled over terms of a truncated season - the hostilities building over the course of the early summer.
“They were great,” Davis said. “Honestly, I felt like guys were paying attention to what was going on. They were really staying ready as best they could with so many unknowns and so many things, we weren’t sure how it was going to play out, we weren’t sure what it was going to look like if we came back. I thought they did a great job of staying in contact with each other. And also, we had a chance to get together a few times over Zoom calls, just kind of random group discussions with any information I could give those guys.
“I think it’s a tough position to be in because I felt like there was so much waiting and so many unknowns, but I was really proud of the way that our team ... especially we’re such a young clubhouse. For those guys to really pay attention and stay in-tune and not check out is a tribute to them.”
Davis kept working out at the gym inside the garage of his Dallas/Fort Worth area home following the shutdown and also did some hitting at a facility with three other guys, including the owner - practicing social distancing throughout each session. He also began to play in pickup sandlot games about six weeks ago, the opposing pitchers including Derek Holland, Brandon Workman, Colten Brewer, Kevin McCarthy, Hoby Milner, Ryan Pressly and Alex Claudio.
“I’ve had a lot of baseball activity over the past few months,” he said.
There will be more tomorrow in Day 2 of summer training camp. And it’s going to keep looking odd compared to those mornings and afternoons in Sarasota.
“When you’re out on the field it feels normal,” Hyde said. “It’s definitely different than the clubhouse, it’s different in the coaches’ room. There’s just a lot more protocols that we all bought into to really make this a safe, healthy season and do what we need to 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. The clubhouse looks different. Guys are spread out. So some of the things we’ve gotten accustomed to, we’re making adjustments this year.”