Home Baseball A Joyous Return to M.L.B.’s Ballparks, With a Dose of Wariness

A Joyous Return to M.L.B.’s Ballparks, With a Dose of Wariness

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The quaint old emblem is everywhere at Fenway Park, from the Green Monster to the roofs of the dugouts to the exit ramps in the grandstand: two stockings, one snugly overlapping the other, the symbol of the Boston Red Sox for generations.

On Friday, though, when the players arrived for the first summer workouts of a surreal season, the logo looked different on the signs above the bullpens and near the home bench. The little red socks dangled apart from each other, and accompanying messages implored players to practice social distancing.

The official anthem of the 2020 season might as well be “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” by the Police. Nobody’s taking you out to the ballgame anytime soon.

“It’s never going to be a risk-free environment, we know that,” Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh said. “That’s the environment we know we’re coming back to play in.”

Major League Baseball plans to open its 60-game season on July 23, with no fans in the stands because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is essentially preparing a three-month television series, with 30 ballparks as studios and no live audiences. Rehearsals are officially underway, with a notable wardrobe addition for anyone working with the players.

“When you see all the smiles on their faces, it’s a good thing,” Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke said. “I know you can’t really see the smiles on us, because we’ve got our masks on. But it was a long time at home.”

It was essentially another off-season, an unplanned, three-and-a-half-month break after a month of spring training. Some Boston players have tested positive for the coronavirus, Roenicke said, though he could not say how many. The team’s best starting pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, is awaiting results of a test; he did not go to Fenway on Friday because he has recently been in contact with someone who is sick.

“Eddie was fine with me telling you guys that, but I just don’t want to have to talk about this every day, because it’s going to come up every day,” Roenicke said on a Zoom call with reporters, who remained separated from players and staff members at the stadium. “We’re tested all the time.”

M.L.B. and the players’ union announced the results of the first round of that testing on Friday: Out of 3,185 tests, 38 were positive (31 players and seven staff members). Eleven clubs had no positive tests among their ranks.

Because of health privacy laws, teams need players’ permission to disclose their presence on the new Covid-19 injured list. But if a player is missing and the team will not say why, it may not be hard to guess the reason.

“We have to be extremely vigilant about making sure that we follow these health and safety protocols we’ve been working toward for three months,” said McHugh, a member of the players’ union’s executive committee. “I think some positives are to be expected; guys are coming from different parts of the country, different parts of the world.”

The Red Sox worked out in shifts on Friday — pitchers and catchers in the morning, others in the afternoon — and while the players were unmasked, they were generally spread out. Reporters watched from the fifth-level press box; photographers shot from the stands.

Besides Chaim Bloom, Boston’s chief baseball officer, who wore a mask and kept his distance, few staff members mingled among the players and coaches.

With as many as 60 players allowed in each major league team’s camp — and only one diamond, of course — clubs will utilize other local facilities for overflow. Some Red Sox, for example, will work out at Boston College starting Saturday.

Coordinating the plans, while keeping in regular contact with players from a distance, has been exhausting for Roenicke, who has been in baseball since 1977. He called this the busiest he has ever been.

“We tried to provide as much guidance as we could through phone calls and Zoom calls and texts; certain guys were able to share some pitch data with me,” the pitching coach Dave Bush said. “But a big part of baseball is the hands-on, face-to-face interaction, just on a personal level and also a coaching level. I’m very happy to be back around people.”

The comforting sounds were all back on Friday — the crack of the bat, the thwack of ball meeting glove, the music over the public-address system — but no one knows for certain that these practices will even matter. As the number of confirmed cases spikes around the country, the virus may have the final say.

“Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable,” Mike Trout, the game’s premier player, told reporters covering the Angels on Friday. “We’re risking our families, risking our lives to go out here and play for everyone.”

Trout added that he did not understand why players must be confined to their hotel rooms on the road (except to go to the ballpark), but acknowledged that one careless player could ruin everything.

“I love playing this game,” Trout said. “It’s going to come down to how safe we’re going to be.”

The Red Sox are taking no chances at their antique home. While the coaches still dress in the claustrophobic Fenway clubhouse, the players will occupy the luxury suites on the second deck, two to a room, like a college dormitory with the best view in town.

“We had an idea of what it would kind of look like, but then just seeing it in person and being in the room, it was really cool,” infielder Michael Chavis said. “And then the beautiful view of Fenway, and everything about it. I missed baseball, I missed the Red Sox, I missed the team.”

The boys are back in town now, excited but wary, together but distant.

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