With the St. Louis Cardinals sidelined by a raft of positive coronavirus tests — and the Miami Marlins playing with a reconstructed roster after their own outbreak caused the league to reshuffle schedules in late July — Major League Baseball has again tightened its health protocols in an effort to safely navigate the rest of its shortened season.
In a six-page memo sent to teams and players on Wednesday, M.L.B. added new areas in which players must wear masks, restricted the places players can visit outside the ballpark, and said players who do not abide by the rules would be subjected to discipline.
“We recognize that these changes place additional burdens and restrictions on players and staff,” said the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times. “But if we desire to play, they are necessary to limit infections and, if someone does test positive, to keep the virus from spreading.”
All players and staff members must wear face coverings over their mouths and noses at all times in stadiums, the memo said, except for players on the field. Players and staffers must also wear masks at all times in hotels — “except when alone in their rooms,” the memo adds — and in all public places while traveling. Surgical masks or N95/KN95 respirators are required while on planes or buses.
“We just dealt with baseball taken away from us for over a week, and we understand how serious the situation is,” he added. “If you want to play, these are the rules you’ve got to go by.”
“We’ve basically been wearing masks all the time anyway,” Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steven Brault said Thursday. “This will just add a little bit more, but it’s really not going to change much. You’re still not wearing it out on the field. As long as it doesn’t have any effect on performance, which it obviously won’t, then it doesn’t really matter.
“It’s a simple thing: put a mask on. It’s not that hard.”
Teams must provide outdoor, covered spaces for social distancing during rain delays, the memo said, and at least four buses for traveling to and from the hotel and ballpark, with nobody sitting in adjoining seats and an unoccupied row left between any passengers. Masks can be removed to eat or drink, of course, but the memo prohibits conversation while eating and drinking, and mandates that only one person per row be eating or drinking at the same time.
The league will also try to restrict players’ activities away from the ballpark, requiring them to get permission from their team’s compliance officer if they want to leave the hotel for any reason. At home, the memo said, players and staff “are prohibited from visiting bars, lounges, malls, or other places in which larger groups of people gather.”
The memo said that the league’s contracted security officers will be at the team hotels for 16 hours each day, and monitor both clubhouses, in addition to their role as monitors of the video rooms. It added that those who “repeatedly or flagrantly” violate the protocols will — after a warning — risk their ability to further participate in this season.
“I’m OK with the rules — whatever helps us play the game,” Marlins reliever Brandon Kintzler said on Thursday. “If you want to play, this is unfortunately how you’ve got to do it. If you don’t want to play, then don’t go by the rules and just go home. This is just the way the world is right now, this is how the sports world is, and I’m sure the N.F.L. is going to deal with something very similar if they want to get it in.