Elias: Orioles going to 'stay on high alert'

March 14th, 2020

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles hunkered down on Friday and Saturday, after MLB suspended Spring Training and delayed the start of the 2020 season by at least two weeks due to coronavirus, closing their Major and Minor League complexes to players, staff and media while both facilities underwent deep cleans.

While players were initially instructed to remain in the Sarasota area at least through the weekend, a joint decision was made Friday afternoon by MLB and MLBPA to provide players other options. Those options, per a joint release, are:

• Players will be permitted to stay in the area of the Spring Training facility
• Players will be permitted to travel to the club’s home city
• Players will be permitted to travel to their offseason home (or any other location)

“This step is in the best interests of players, employees and the communities who host Spring Training,” MLB’s statement read. “MLB will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by coronavirus.”

Speaking on a conference call with reporters around noon Friday, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the team was “very intent on keeping everyone here” with the hopes of limiting unnecessary travel, while it awaited further guidance from public health officials and MLB. At that point, the club was expecting players to return to the facility this weekend in some capacity for informal workouts.

Many players expected to remain in the Sarasota area even after Friday's announcement, but it was unclear when baseball activity would resume at the Ed Smith facility, informally or otherwise. Relievers Shawn Armstrong and Tanner Scott were among the pitchers who took to a local high school field to throw Saturday while the complex underwent a second cleaning.

Elias said earlier in the day any upcoming workouts and other related baseball activity would involve only Orioles players, and not players from other organizations. Spring facilities remain closed to the public.

“Clearly we are going to react to what the public health needs are at any given time,” Elias said. “We support the decision to delay the season and press pause on Spring Training, and I know the league office is working very hard on figuring out when and where is the right time to reactivate the sport. But right now we’ve just got to do what’s in the best interest of public health, but also the players and people who work for the teams.”

Meanwhile, the Orioles have been working since Thursday to get Minor League players home "in a socially responsible way," one source said. Upon temporarily shutting down their Twin Lakes facility, players and staff were initially told to remain in the area for the short term while next steps were determined. They were given permission to leave if they wished by Saturday afternoon, though some planned to remain in the Sarasota area as well, according to multiple sources.

Elias said the Orioles have not tested any Major or Minor League players for the coronavirus, saying “we haven’t had anything yet that would prompt us to proceed with a test for the COVID-19 at this point.”

That has not stopped concern over the virus impacting many aspects of the organization. Like teams across the league, the Orioles slowed their scouting travel to a near complete halt over the past week, and face uncertainty regarding their preparation for the Draft. They are also awaiting clarity on how to handle the process of dwindling their current crop of 55 players in big league camp down to 26, which should come as the situation evolves over the coming days and weeks.

In delaying the start of the season Thursday, MLB pushed Opening Day back to at least April 9.

The Orioles had been preparing to travel to Fort Myers for a night game against the Twins at the time, briefly leaving Sarasota before turning back at around 1:30 p.m. ET amid uncertainty about whether the game would be cancelled. MLB’s announcement came shortly after 3 p.m. local time. The NBA, NHL and other professional sports leagues have also suspended operations in reaction to coronavirus.

“When more and more information started coming out about the NBA, then you heard the NHL’s thoughts and stance on it, that’s when you start to think, 'Are we going to be the last one to hold strong or make the same move?'" Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “There were so many unknowns. Now we have a little bit of an idea of what is going to happen, but there is still a lot of time in the next few days and a lot of things to still be discussed.”

Davis, the Orioles’ player rep, said his preference was to remain in Florida for the interim while understanding plans may soon be adjusted. Before the joint decision, Elias said players were expected to comply “unless there are extenuating circumstances causing them to want to leave” the area, at which point the club and MLB would intervene. The joint decision from MLB and MLBPA came out of meetings in Arizona around 7:30 p.m. ET.

On Friday afternoon, Elias said the organization is reassessing its short-term plans “on a day-to-day basis,” and called “making sure we have the right approach, the right protocol for the health and safety of our players, staff members and community around our camp” the “biggest priority right now.”

“It’s a very strange circumstance,” he said. “But I feel really good with the support system we’ve been provided at the league level, but also our medical staff is first rate. We have a really good setup here in Florida on a number of fronts … it's gone about as smooth as it could’ve gone at this point in terms of doing what we need to do. But we’re going to stay on high alert and react to the situation as the facts come out.”