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Mariners adapt to 'new normal' at Summer Camp

Seattle holds first workouts at T-Mobile Park on Friday
@gregjohnsmlb
July 3, 2020

SEATTLE -- They gathered for a team meeting in the stands down the first-base line at T-Mobile Park, sitting every other row to allow proper spacing in these socially-distanced times. Then, they took the field surrounded by coaches wearing face masks while preparing for the start of Summer Camp. Things

SEATTLE -- They gathered for a team meeting in the stands down the first-base line at T-Mobile Park, sitting every other row to allow proper spacing in these socially-distanced times. Then, they took the field surrounded by coaches wearing face masks while preparing for the start of Summer Camp.

Things are different for the Mariners as they embark on the road back from a 3 1/2-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there was a bottom line to Friday’s sometimes awkward activities: Baseball is back for the boys of summer, even if summer only brought 60-degree temperatures and cloudy skies at T-Mobile Park upon their initial return.

“It’s definitely a little different,” rookie first baseman Evan White said. “But we’re all just so excited to be back on the field and together again, so it’s been awesome so far.”

After COVID-19 testing, Mariners open camp

White was one of about 20 players taking part in the morning session of Friday’s workout, with a similar-sized group replacing them in the afternoon as the Mariners split up their players in order to spread out as much as possible in this new world.

Players wore masks everywhere they went, except while working out on the field, while manager Scott Servais and the coaches kept their faces covered throughout. Once the first group was done at noon, they were quickly sent home, allowing a cleaning crew to sweep through the clubhouses bofore the next group followed for the afternoon session.

“This is going to be the new normal,” White said. “I don’t know how long that new normal will last, but for the foreseeable future, I think this is where it’s going to be at. It’s going to take some time to get used to.”

The strange circumstances don’t mask one reality, however. The Mariners -- like every MLB team -- have only three weeks to get ready for Opening Day on July 23 or 24, so players know the timeline they face is tight.

Marco Gonzales, who is again penciled in as Seattle’s Opening Day starter, threw 40-50 pitches in the bullpen and began accelerating the process of building his arm back up after three months of throwing on his own.

“It felt great,” Gonzales said. “I’ve been really anxious to get back on a dirt mound. I’ve thrown a lot of my bullpens off of turf, so being able to dig in a little and get my feet under me felt great.”

It’s those little things that meant a lot after the forced vacation.

“The biggest thing that stuck with me, probably about a month into the shutdown, it was like, ‘Wow, I have taken so much for granted,’” Servais said. “And how grateful I am for all of us to get back together today. As you get rolling along in your career, your different seasons, it just kind of becomes the norm. You get a chance to put a uniform on and work with young players, be in a competitive situation. And it quickly hit me how much I missed that.”

For Gonzales, it was the green grass of home at T-Mobile Park, where the grounds crew maintained a pristine field that went virtually unused for months.

“The field looks amazing,” Gonzales said. “This is probably the best the surface has been in years. So being able to have some spikes on and run around was amazing. Seeing guys go through drills and just seeing some baseball action, that was probably the best part of my day. Seeing the guys get to work.”

Like White, Gonzales spoke to reporters via a Zoom call from his home, having already left the park following his morning workout. Players no longer will be allowed to linger at the facility to eat or hang out with teammates.

“We have a lot of guidelines and protocols to follow,” Gonzales said. “It’s for everyone’s safety. Trying to work that into our routine will be the challenge. To make those protocols normal will give us the best chance to have success in this camp and season. But it’s great to have everybody up here and see the guys again. It’s a great feeling.”

Different players will have different challenges. The strangest initial difficulty for White?

“The whole no-spitting thing and licking the fingers,” White said. “Playing first base, I want to have a good grip on the ball if I have to throw it anywhere. That’s something I’ve done my entire baseball life. It’s going to take some getting used to.”

But in the end, it still is baseball. There were hitters taking batting practice, pitchers playing catch and players fielding ground balls.

“It’s been 112 days since we were together in Arizona,” Servais said. “And as we all know, the world has changed a ton. So I’m just looking forward to being around our players, getting them in the right mindset and in shape and ready to go.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.