Rhys Hoskins kept circling back to the same adjective to describe the Phillies’ 2 1/2-inning intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.

“Weird.”

Hoskins used the word no fewer than four times in a 15-minute Zoom call, applying it to a) the feeling of playing in an empty 40,000-seat ballpark, b) not being allowed to spit, and c) the health-and-safety protocols that are governing Major League Baseball’s season-within-a-pandemic.

As Hoskins spoke, half his face was covered by a mask that he said he will consider wearing during games, at least while he’s holding on a runner at first base. Some Phillies players, including shortstop Didi Gregorius and third baseman Jean Segura, have been wearing masks during workouts and scrimmages.

Understandable? Absolutely. 100%.

Weird? You bet.

Maybe it will all get less weird as time goes on. Then again, probably not.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday during the Phillies’ training camp. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.

— Scott Lauber (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins takes a break during a training-camp practice at Citizens Bank Park this week.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins takes a break during a training-camp practice at Citizens Bank Park this week.

Hoskins: MLB labor talks ‘could have been handled better’

Last month, as Major League Baseball and the Players Association duked it out over an economic plan for a pandemic-shortened season, Rhys Hoskins had a ringside seat.

Hoskins is the Phillies’ union representative, which means he serves on the MLBPA’s 38-player executive board and reports back to his teammates whenever their vote is required. In this case, a five-week volley of proposals between MLB and the union resulted in bickering over prorated salaries and the length of the schedule and failed to produce a compromise.

The whole thing was unbecoming, especially because it occurred amid a deadly virus, rising unemployment, and protests in the streets over racial injustice and police brutality. Hoskins knows how it looked, and it doesn’t make him proud.

“I think the easiest way to put it is it could have been handled better,” he said Wednesday.

To recap: MLB made 82-, 76-, and 70-game proposals, all of which called for the renegotiation of a March agreement in which the owners committed to paying out prorated salaries based on the number of games played. The union countered with 114-, 89-, and 70-game pitches at 100% prorated pay, even though the owners claimed they would lose $640,000 per game played without fans.

Ultimately, with MLB seeking to play 60 games and the union countering with 70 -- in both cases, with 100% prorated salaries -- they were unable to come to an agreement. Commissioner Rob Manfred exercised his authority under the March accord to impose a 60-game season, and here we are, with training camp underway.

“Look, there were a lot of things that needed to be talked about,” Hoskins said. “From a player-rep standpoint and most guys across the league, we were definitely willing to put in those hours to make sure that we hit everything that we needed to."

For Hoskins, that meant “waves” of conference calls with union leadership. There were weeks when he would participate in multiple calls per day; there were weeks when he didn’t have any.

In all likelihood, it was the undercard to next year’s heavyweight battle over the collective bargaining agreement, which expires after next season. After these negotiations, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the next round. Phillies star Bryce Harper said last week that it’s “sad that [baseball] is at the state where it is now.

“At the end of the day, we’re here and think that’s really what matters most,” Hoskins said. “We were able to get through the health and safety protocols, see eye-to-eye on those things. It was a lot. It was very enlightening, I think, from my point of view.”

The rundown

Among the sights and sounds from the Phillies’ first training-camp scrimmage: Didi Gregorius hitting a grand slam ... while wearing a mask, and Bryce Harper reacting to a J.T. Realmuto homer by shouting, “Sign him!”

Rhys Hoskins takes us through the evolution of his batting stance, from the end of last season through spring training and a three-month quarantine.

For this season to move forward, players must trust MLB’s testing process. Glitches such as long delays in getting the results or Phillies outfielder Adam Haseley’s lost intake-screening samples aren’t helping the situation.

Aaron Nola cleared MLB’s coronavirus protocol, then cleared the air about why he was late to camp. (Spoiler: He never tested positive.) Here’s the list of Phillies who were infected with the virus: Scott Kingery, Tommy Hunter, Mikie Mahtook.

MLB’s attempt to stage a season amid a pandemic will come down to the players’ behavior away from the field. After hearing from Bryce Harper the other day, I’m not sure that’s going to be a problem.

With a baby on the way, Zack Wheeler’s No. 1 priority need not be with anything other than his family, as Mike Sielski writes. Meanwhile, Marcus Hayes believes any player who opts out of the season is being selfish.

Bob Brookover wonders whether, in a weird way, the Phillies’ coronavirus outbreak in Clearwater last month actually gives them an edge.

Want a flavor of what the Phillies’ training camp looks, sounds and feels like? Matt Breen’s got you covered here.

Important dates

July 18: Phillies play preseason game at Washington, 6:05 p.m.

July 19: Orioles visit Citizens Bank Park for exhibition, 6:05 p.m.

July 20: Exhibition game marks Joe Girardi’s return to Yankee Stadium, 6:05 p.m.

July 24: (Re-)opening day! Phillies host Marlins, 7:05 p.m.

Aug. 31: Trade deadline.

Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery has not yet reported to training camp after testing positive for COVID-19.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery has not yet reported to training camp after testing positive for COVID-19.

Stat of the day

There are baseball stats, and then there are baseball’s COVID-19 stats. Because the latter is every bit as relevant as the former, USA Today is tracking players who have acknowledged testing positive for the virus and/or gave their teams permission to disclose their information.

Through Wednesday night, 42 players were infected, according to results that have been made public. Of those, 11 were at least 30 years old, with an average age of 26.2. Sixteen teams reported a player who was positive, although MLB announced last Friday that 19 clubs had at least one positive case during the intake testing.

Twenty-five of the players are from the United States, according to USA Today.

The Phillies announced that second baseman Scott Kingery, reliever Tommy Hunter, and outfielder Mikie Mahtook tested positive. Bench coach Rob Thomson, bullpen coach Jim Gott, and bullpen catcher Greg Brodzinski also had the virus.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: Scott- if Mike Trout were to opt out, do you think Harper, Wheeler and Nola might also?

--@donaldc58, via Twitter

Answer: Whoo boy! That is a great question, Donald. Thanks for asking.

I’ll begin by saying this: Given Trout’s stature as the best player in the sport, if he decides to opt out, it may well persuade some other players to do the same. I’m still not sure, though, that it would inspire a cavalcade of followers out the door.

Look, baseball players aren’t terribly different from workers in other industries in the sense that everyone’s circumstance is different. Some players make eight-figure annual salaries and are signed for a long time (Harper, for instance); others make six figures and have not yet reached free agency (i.e., Hoskins). Some players have young children (Harper) or a wife who is due to give birth this summer (Wheeler, Trout); others are single (Nola).

What I’m saying is that opting out of the season is a personal choice. I doubt that most players will be influenced by the decision of one or two marquee names. If players follow Trout’s lead about anything, here’s hoping it’s his mask-wearing habits.