Mets embrace 'new normality' at Summer Camp

July 3rd, 2020

NEW YORK -- Around 9 a.m. ET on Friday, Jacob deGrom emerged onto the Citi Field grass. He stood in the outfield for a few minutes, taking in the scene, then he walked over to a lane marked off by orange cones. There, the two-time Cy Young Award winner began throwing. His manager, Luis Rojas, would later say that he looked to be in “midseason form.”

All around deGrom (though never within six feet of him) were coaches in masks. Behind home plate stood a pole with a hand-sanitizing station attached to it. The outfield featured three zones like the one deGrom was using, marked by orange, blue and lime-green cones. Beyond the right-field fence was a makeshift outdoor gym with stationary bikes and other equipment.

Following an initial round of catch, a group of clubhouse attendants gathered all the used baseballs in a vacant area near the home dugout. One of them disinfected the balls, before tossing them to the other three clubbies to towel them dry.

Only after the morning session ended, and deGrom and others left for home, did a second group of Mets begin emerging onto the field. A few hours after that, a third group followed. In this fashion, the Mets completed their first day of Summer Camp as safely as possible, mingling the excitement of baseball’s restart with an abundance of caution.

“It’s hard right now to be here,” catcher Wilson Ramos said from an empty interview room, where he addressed reporters via Zoom. “But at the same time, I’m very happy to be here doing what we love to do. I missed this.”

Consider this the new normal for deGrom, Ramos and the 49 other Mets currently in the team’s 60-man player pool. For the next three weeks, they will commute daily to Citi Field, where they intend to take batting practice, do defensive work, participate in conditioning drills, lift weights and, eventually, play intrasquad games. The goal is to simulate Spring Training to enough of an extent that when the 60-game regular season begins on July 23 or 24, the Mets will be ready to compete for a title.

They just need to stay safe in the interim.

“The No. 1 thing is the health of everyone here,” said Rojas, who arrived at Citi Field around 6:45 a.m. and didn’t leave until deep into the evening, “and that we’re fulfilling the protocols for the guys to be able to go out on the field and focus on baseball.”

To that end, the Mets retrofitted Citi Field so that they can use as much of its 1.2 million square feet as possible. Rather than cram 51 players in the home clubhouse, the Mets spread them among the home, visiting and auxiliary dressing rooms. The entire lower concourse, from foul pole to foul pole, is only accessible to those with Tier 1 status -- players, coaches, trainers and anyone else whose presence the league considers necessary.

Even before players began arriving in New York earlier this week, Mets officials spent ample time educating them about safety protocols at camp. Some Mets, such as pitchers Michael Wacha and Robert Gsellman, wore masks to the field on Friday, though nearly all of them removed the coverings while working out. Before the workout, Rojas addressed them all virtually.

“It’s become part of the new normality to hop on a Zoom call, hop on a virtual call or text or using Teamworks, and we’re connecting that way,” the manager said.

In so many ways, that “new normality” will take some getting used to. But there was at least one commonality to a regular spring camp: the optimism that pervaded every one of those 1.2 million square feet.

“As soon as I get into the field, I feel like baseball is back,” Ramos said. “We are back. I feel normal today except the distance we have from teammates.”

Added Rojas: “Once we hit the field, it was almost like camp. We were out there, we were maintaining our distances, but once they started playing catch, throwing the ball around and the BP that we saw there, I was just excited to see the ball coming off the bat. It felt pretty normal to us.”