ST. LOUIS -- Six consecutive days quarantining in a hotel room can take its toll on anyone, but it was clear Wednesday that the Cardinals were happy to get out of their downtown Milwaukee hotel. After a coronavirus outbreak within their traveling party that impacted a week of games and a fourth of the team’s roster, the Cardinals returned two consecutive negative tests and were cleared to travel on Wednesday to St. Louis, where they had their first workout in a week.
The 13 members of the traveling party who tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend left Milwaukee to quarantine at home.
“It was literally a breath of fresh air,” manager Mike Shildt said after Wednesday’s light 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 Cardinals have two days of workouts before resuming their schedule against the Cubs on Friday. It’s been a week since they were last on a baseball field and will be nine days on Friday since their last game, a 3-0 loss to the Twins at Target Field on July 29. But the team was able to get its players a few baseballs at the hotel, so everyone was able to get in a little work in their room -- even if it meant throwing at a mattress, like Jack Flaherty did Sunday.
“Our guys find the strike zone. In this case, we found the mattresses and the pillows,” Shildt said. “Worked ahead, got a few lamps off the bed maybe. Moved some lamps back and brushed the shades, but I think our guys located, executed, got ahead, worked ahead, kept their imaginary defense engaged.”
All jokes aside, Shildt said the team will be cautious about players’ health when getting back on the field after this long of a break. Pitchers will likely be limited to start this weekend, and it could take some time for hitters to get their timing back.
“It’s not an ideal break for nine days, but this group has good habits and a lot of resources to draw from,” Shildt said. “The two days of working out will help with that timing and getting back. I can’t underestimate that it’s nothing, but I’m also comfortable and confident that this group will not make an excuse and be ready to get after it on Friday.”
Workouts looked a little different Wednesday, too. There was more of an effort to social distance, and more players wore masks on the field than in Summer Camp. Tommy Edman took grounders at shortstop in a mask. Matt Wieters, Andrew Knizner and Kolten Wong were among the hitters to wear a mask during batting practice.
Shildt said there’s going to be a conscious effort to follow procedures even more than they were before the outbreak, including adequate spacing in the bullpen and dugout, and socially distant celebrations.
“If you’re not in the lineup, you are not in the dugout,” Shildt said. “And there will not be, as hard as it is and as natural as it is and as ingrained as it is to physically support your teammate with a high five or pat on the back to celebrate, or to pick someone up if something happened, we just won’t do it. We’re going to be super cautious about everything we do and how we celebrate and how we react.”
Shildt said that the team has traced the origin of the outbreak to an outside individual who was asymptomatic when they had contact with a member of the club. The Cardinals have denied any break from protocols on the road. They believe the first exposure happened before the team left St. Louis last week and the spread might have begun on the team charter to Minnesota, which is why they want to be even more careful with social distancing measures and mask-wearing moving forward.
Their bubble did break, and they don’t want it to happen again.
“I never underestimated the power of this disease but never experienced it,” Shildt said. “And it’s scary to know how quick it can go and move with people that are taking every precaution they can take and still contract it.”