CHICAGO -- Cubs manager David Ross has been walking to Wrigley Field since he arrived back in Chicago to prepare for the upcoming season. With each trip to the ballpark, more and more fans in the North Side neighborhood have given him warm greetings.
"People in the community are starting to know what my mask looks like and my bald head," Ross said with a laugh on Friday. "It's good, man. It's just really fun to walk by the stadium, the way the weather's been and the way we've missed baseball. We've missed it."
Ross is a familiar face for Cubs fans, but the strangeness of 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made identifying him with a mask on a little more challenging. Along those same lines, going through a workout at Wrigley Field feels very familiar to Ross and his players, but there is nothing normal about it right now.
Usually, a practice at the Friendly Confines comes before a ballgame, or on a day off between postseason games. The first official Summer Camp workout on Friday included a tiered workout to limit group sizes, featured coaches wearing masks and outdoor areas around the old ballpark set up for eating, doing weight room activities or holding meetings.
At one point during Friday's gathering, Ross and his staff met with players in the stands down the right-field line.
"I'm going to apply for season tickets there ASAP," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "That view of Wrigley Field, I've never seen the view from that angle before. I was just blown away."
During that meeting, Ross reinforced some of his messaging from Spring Training back in February and March, but with some new added points of emphasis in light of the current circumstances. Trust and accountability were themes in the original preseason and Ross feels they are even more critical now as coronavirus numbers surge in areas around the country.
And while COVID-19 may still seem like an invisible enemy to some, Cubs players and staffers have an example in their midst of the dangers. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who spoke in Friday's meeting, has been negative for around two weeks, but was positive for COVID-19 for 30 days and went through a difficult physical and mental battle on his road to recovery.
"His story, it's incredible," Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said. "The impact that had on him and his family and everybody around him, I think it really puts it in perspective. It tells guys how serious this is and how cautious we need to be, not just for ourselves, but for our teammates, for their families, and for everybody that's working hard to be here for us."
Ross noted that Cubs players and coaching staff have their temperature checked twice upon entering the ballpark, before heading to the locker room areas through a side entrance. There are socially-distanced lockers in the home clubhouse, visitors' clubhouse and other rooms for safety. In the lounge, couches have been removed to discourage gathering.
Workouts will have non-throwing pitchers report first to go through their daily work before exiting. The pitchers scheduled to throw will report next, along with the catchers, who will then go through batting practice. The last wave on any given day will be the position players.
Ross noted that John Baker, who is a mental skills coordinator for the Cubs, is included in the Tier 1 category to serve as a resource for players as they navigate the mental challenges of this period. Tier 1 includes players, the manager, coaches, bullpen catchers, team physicians, head and assistant athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches and physical therapists.
"That whole saying of, 'Be comfortable being uncomfortable,'" Ross said, "I think we're going to have to flip that on its head. It's, 'As soon as you're comfortable, that's when you should be uncomfortable.' If you're sitting down and things seem fine, you need to be aware of your surroundings, you need to be aware of your environment.
"The little details that we're going to have to pay attention to are going to matter a great deal."
Ross said he was not aware of any players who had tested positive for COVID-19 out of the initial intake screening. He also said there were no known absences for Friday's workout. The manager also expressed confidence in his team's willingness and ability to adhere to the protocols that Major League Baseball has established for Summer Camp and the 60-game season.
What Ross also hopes is that the players do a great job of policing themselves, especially when it comes to activities away from the stadium.
"You can't hold these guys' hand. They're grown men," Ross said. "They've got lives outside of the field, but I know this group is a professional group. They understand we're here to do a job. We're here to win. And for us to succeed and win, we're going to have to follow some criteria. We're not going to be able to go out to bars.
"I mean, that puts your teammates at risk. That puts peoples' family members at risk. We have high-risk teammates. We have high-risk family members that guys have at home. That would be an extremely selfish move on their part, and I think they understand that."
When Ross took the job as the Cubs' manager in October, that type of messaging was not on his radar. But there is now a lot of unfamiliar territory within a familiar environment.
"Everything we're having to do now is unique, especially my first year at the helm," Ross said. "There's definitely messages that I didn't know I was going to have to deliver to the guys, but we've got a good group of guys."