When the Phillies boarded a caravan of buses bound for Yankee Stadium on Aug. 3, every member of the traveling party received what manager Joe Girardi described as "care packages" for the ride up the New Jersey Turnpike.
Cookies and bottled water?
"Wipes and masks," Girardi said.
Oh, right. Because it's 2020.
The road can be a treacherous place in pandemic baseball. Just ask the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, and two Cleveland Indians pitchers. Monday marked the first day since July 26 that Major League Baseball didn’t postpone a game because of coronavirus concerns. In all, there have been 32 postponements, forcing enough shuffling to make a Vegas blackjack dealer dizzy.
The Phillies played 16 of their first 17 games at home and haven’t been out of town overnight since training camp opened on July 3. But as they embark on their first trip of the season -- 10 games in 10 days in four cities, beginning Tuesday night at Fenway Park in Boston -- they insist they need not be reminded of the stringent road protocols nor the seriousness with which they must be taken.
“We’re all grown men. I think we can make professional decisions,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “We’ve had a couple of conversations as a group about what’s acceptable on the road and what’s not acceptable. I feel like we’re ready to go on the road and try to stay safe.”
Girardi said the Phillies, like many teams, have devised a “code of conduct” for players and staff to follow. That’s where the care packages come in. Upon checking into hotels, everyone is encouraged to wipe down light switches, remote controls, and other surfaces.
The Phillies also have seat assignments on planes and the buses that will shuttle them between the hotel and ballpark, according to general manager Matt Klentak. The entire infield, for instance, won’t sit with each other to minimize the chance of multiple players being sidelined through contact tracing if one player gets infected. The same goes for outfielders, starting pitchers, and so on.
MLB tightened its protocols, too, after the Marlins’ outbreak. In addition to mandating surgical masks rather than cloth masks, MLB strongly encouraged players not to leave hotels except to go to the ballpark and stipulated that teams designate a staff member to serve as a “compliance officer” on the road to ensure that players are following the rules.
The idea, in essence, is to simulate the bubble environment on the road that the NBA, WNBA, and NHL have created at all times.
Because visiting clubhouses are more cramped than the Phillies’ accommodations at Citizens Bank Park, Girardi said provisions will be made for players to get treatment at the hotel to prevent overcrowding in the training room. The team will also arrange for food delivery to the hotel to avoid the temptation of restaurants.
Some teams have gotten even more creative. The Chicago Cubs reportedly have booked hotels with large outdoor spaces to allow players and staff to congregate for food and socialization. The New York Yankees have reportedly turned hotel ballrooms into game rooms, with ping-pong tables and arcade games.
"We haven't talked about doing those such things," Girardi said. "But we will talk to the players about, if they do get together in their rooms, to make sure that they social distance."
Girardi noted that many players enjoy playing video games, a solitary activity that doesn’t require being around each other to enjoy one another’s company.
“I think that’ll be probably the thing that we do the most,” right fielder Bryce Harper, an avid gamer, said last month. “You can communicate and be on Xbox Live or PS5 Live or on the PC and things like that, and you can communicate after games.”
It remains largely up to the players to police themselves. When Indians pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac were recently caught breaking protocol by going out in Chicago, the team optioned them to the alternate training site for at least 10 days (or two starts apiece). The bigger punishment, though, has come with several teammates speaking out against their actions.
The Phillies have firsthand experience with coronavirus disruptions. They witnessed an outbreak at their training facility in Florida in June and were idle for a week early in the season as a precaution after the Marlins’ outbreak, which occurred in Philadelphia.