FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On Friday, the first official day without Spring Training following the cancellation of games due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Red Sox players were in the process of making arrangements to get back to their offseason homes.
Others will stay back and continue to get workouts in at the team’s Fenway South headquarters as MLB faces the uncertainty of when the sport will officially start up again.
Given how quickly things were evolving as the day progressed, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom wasn’t sure as of late Friday afternoon how many Boston players would travel home and how many would stay in Fort Myers.
One thing that was emphasized on a lengthy conference call with the media that included Bloom, team president/CEO Sam Kennedy and general manager Brian O’Halloran is that the top priority of the Red Sox is the safety of those who are traveling out of Florida and those who will stay in town.
Players across the league were given the option to leave Spring Training after Friday discussions between MLB and the Players Association.
“It’s been agreed that now our players can leave should they choose to, and go home or wherever they need to go,” said Bloom. “We’re trying to make sure that that happens in a safe and orderly manner. We’re working on that as we speak.
“For players who want to stay here, we will have the facility available to them if they want to stay here and obviously we’re going to continue and intensify all the precautions taken to make sure this is a clean and safe environment for everybody here.”
The Red Sox invited the players to Fenway South on Friday to brief them on the shutdown of Spring Training and at least the first two weeks of the regular season due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike most other clubs, Boston had an off-day on Thursday, when the news first came out.
“So it was really just giving them that news as we had it,” said Bloom. “This is a new situation for all of us. We wanted to make sure that we were keeping everybody informed, that we were available to them to answer any questions, but we’re all adjusting on the fly here as we learn more about what this means for the country and what it means for our industry.”
From Fenway South to the real Fenway Park, the Sox were doing everything to make sure their work environment is completely safe for when the sport does ramp back up.
“In Boston last night at Fenway, we directed all of our employees, with the exception of our security force, to work from home until further notice,” said Kennedy. “We are still open for business, and just doing it in a way that's a little bit safer and in line with recommendations from the health experts.
“Tomorrow morning at Fenway Park, Aramark and their vendor Servpro will begin a three-day deep clean of disinfecting all of Fenway Park. Every square inch will be disinfected and cleaned. At JetBlue, the facility is closed to the general public, the media and for tours, but as of right now, the facility is still open to our players and staff, who are in a safe environment, with our medical staff on site.”
Though the games are secondary at this point, Red Sox executives look forward to the time when things stabilize enough for the fans to be able to have their team back on the field.
“We know a lot of people out there look to sports and look to the Red Sox for distraction, for a pick-me-up during tough times,” said Bloom. “And it pains us, all of us in the front office, our staff, our players, that right now we’re not going to be able to provide that. We look forward to, as Sam said, being part of the healing process when we can provide it, but public safety is number one, so we have to put this whole thing on pause right now.”
As for when it un-pauses -- whenever that is -- Bloom was asked how much Spring Training he thought the team would need to be ready for the regular season.
“It would be really a guess at this point because I think a lot of that has to do with when that is and how long we’ve been down,” Bloom said. “Obviously, in different ways, our players, while staying safe, are going to make sure that they are staying as ready as possible. Certainly, I think we’re talking a few weeks, but how long exactly, I think may depend on when we’re able to start back up again.”
With pitchers likely to keep their arms in shape whether they stay in camp or not, Bloom doesn’t think they would need a full buildup once MLB is able to reveal a time frame for when the season will start.
“I think that depends somewhat on timing and different guys, what they’ve been able to do during that time pause period,” Bloom said. “Wouldn’t necessarily be starting from scratch like that. There would still definitely be a need for buildup if we’re going to do this safely. Obviously, this is not something for which we have a playbook. We don’t know exactly what the circumstances will be when we get a chance to start up again.”
What is most important, Bloom added, is perspective.
“At the end of the day, to steal a phrase from one of my longtime mentors: Life is bigger than baseball,” said Bloom. “This is really one of those moments. This is way bigger than us, and this is way more important than the game that we play.
“And the most important thing for us is to have everybody’s safety in mind, and to make sure that -- especially being in such a visible industry -- that we’re doing our part, that we’re setting a good example, that we’re doing everything we can to help society minimize whatever damage might come from this pandemic. That’s just way bigger than anything that goes on on the field right now.”