Didi Gregorius emerged Wednesday night from the Phillies dugout with the look of a ballplayer: glove tucked under his arm, cap tugged tight, red socks pulled high. But then there was the black mask covering his nose and mouth, a reminder that Gregorius is a ballplayer in the middle of a pandemic.
He has worn his mask each day during the team’s summer camp, one of the handful of Phillies who have played with a protective face covering. And Gregorius committed Wednesday to wearing his mask — in the field and at the plate — during the season, a 60-game schedule that he could have opted out of and still received full pay because of a chronic kidney disorder that labels him as “high-risk.”
“I still have it, and it will be there for life,” Gregorius said of the ailment that was diagnosed when he was a minor leaguer. “I had a really good conversation with the doctors here, and they said I was one of the high-risk players and everything. So, we had a really good conversation. They ask me every day what they can do to make it better for me, so there has been really good communication. We are trying to go through the guidelines and trying to do everything we can do to stay safe. So, that’s why people see me walking around with a mask on and stuff. I am keeping myself safe, wearing a mask everywhere I go. So, I have to keep it on me all the time.”
Major League Baseball is not requiring players to wear masks on the field during games or practices, as they try to play a season that will be dictated by their ability to stop the coronavirus from spreading through clubhouses. Players must wear masks into the ballpark and when they’re in the clubhouse, but they can remove them when they’re in the dugout or on the field. Coaches, trainers, and bat boys are required to wear masks, but umpires have the same option as players.
Gregorius, Nick Williams, Jean Segura, Rhys Hoskins, Logan Forsythe, and Ronald Torreyes are some of the Phillies players who have opted to wear masks at times during camp. Gregorius brought a few masks with him to summer camp and tested which one felt best, settling on one with a built-in filter.
“I can’t force a person to wear their mask, but it’s for everybody’s safety,” Gregorius said. “I’d prefer for everybody to wear it. You have to get the right one, too, while you’re playing, so you can breathe normally, because if you are wearing a mask and you can’t breathe, it’s going to be hard for you to breathe through it. So, get the right one.”
Gregorius missed the first two months of the 2011 minor-league season after his blood pressure, cholesterol, and protein levels were so high that the league suspected he was taking performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, his kidneys were malfunctioning. He rested for two months, received treatment, and changed his diet. Gregorius has since cut out red meat, which he said has helped.
The ailment has not sidelined Gregorius since, but it was still enough for him to have the choice to decline playing during the pandemic. If he opted out, Gregorius would earn $5.18 million — a prorated amount of the $14 million, one-year contract he signed this winter — and then become a free agent.
But next year’s free-agent market is already cloudy thanks to the loss of revenue league-wide this season. And if Gregorius opted out this season, it might be even murkier for a 30-year-old shortstop who missed the second-half of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Gregorius, with a mask added to his uniform, will play this season and try to prove that he can still be the player who replaced Derek Jeter in the Bronx and electrified Yankee Stadium. Gregorious hit 20 or more homers for three-straight seasons, from 2016 to 2018, and posted an .829 OPS in 2018, his last healthy season.
He’ll be the Phillies everyday shortstop; reunite with Joe Girardi, his former Yankee manager; and be a key component in a lineup that has potential to be one of the deepest in the majors. If Gregorious proves to still be the player he was in New York, there should be a market for him this winter. First, he’ll try and play 60 games under a mask.