Matt Klentak is not a doctor, and he sure as heck doesn’t play one on Zoom. But after back-to-back days without a Phillies player or coach testing positive for COVID-19, the general manager is increasingly confident that the team didn’t contract much more than a couple of losses from the viral Miami Marlins.
Cue the sigh of relief from Citizens Bank Park, or the living room, or wherever else Klentak is working from this week.
All along, Major League Baseball officials regarded this outbreak as chiefly a Marlins issue. Maybe they were correct. The Phillies aren’t out of the woods yet, not with an incubation period that ranges from two days to two weeks and daily testing continuing through at least the week. As of Wednesday, though, the on-field toll from this contagion stood at 16 players and two coaches — all with the Marlins.
Since Friday, in fact — when the Marlins began a three-game, season-opening series in Philadelphia — the only players and coaches who tested positive among more than 6,400 samples collected overall have been from Miami’s roster, a fact that has practically caused MLB to thump its chest over how well its safety protocols are working.
(No word on whether the infected attendant in the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park concurs. Then again, off-field personnel aren’t counted in MLB’s publicly released testing data.)
But even if the outbreak really is contained to one team, there are lessons to be learned by all 30 about the importance of discipline, vigilance, and accountability. It isn’t likely to forestall other virus-related incidents during this 60-game sprint-within-a-pandemic, but maybe future spinouts won’t crash more than half of a team’s roster or send three other clubs careening off track.
“When we talk about prioritizing health and safety, you just have to be disciplined to that,” Klentak said Wednesday. “Nobody has to try to be a hero and power through a cough, a headache or a fever. It’s the wrong thing to do right now. You just have to be open and honest and be OK because it’s the right thing for your team and the right thing for your sport.”
The Phillies need not be reminded of how quickly the virus can spread. They thought they took every precaution at their spring-training facility in Clearwater, Fla., but an outbreak last month left six players and five staff members infected.
It hit home, Klentak said, that COVID-19 is not to be trifled with.
Maybe the Marlins let down their guard after leaving South Florida, a coronavirus epicenter for several weeks. Maybe they lack the leadership on a young roster to self-police their off-field behavior. The commissioner’s office is investigating the situation, according to the New York Post, to figure out what went wrong and why.
But it doesn’t really matter how the Marlins turned the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park into an incubator, only that they did. And that they put players on the field last weekend who tested positive before the team could even leave town. The Marlins remained in isolation at a Center City hotel Wednesday night.
Contrast that with Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price, who didn’t feel well when he woke up Saturday, reported it to the team’s medical staff, got tested, and stayed home rather than attending the game. (Price tested negative and was cleared to return for workouts this week before the Phillies resume play with a doubleheader Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays.)
“In a typical season, it might not have been something to keep him away from the ballpark,” Klentak said. “Him understanding what’s going on in our sport right now, I think he did the right thing.”
Price followed MLB’s protocols, at least as the Phillies understand them. Klentak said players are required to complete a 30-question health survey and take two temperature checks each day — and that’s before they arrive at the ballpark.
“If anything is flagged, immediately that person gets a phone call from a medical staff member for a follow-up,” Klentak said. “Any question at all, the person stays home. Anything considered a risk stays home for the risk.”
But in an MLB Network interview Monday night, commissioner Rob Manfred claimed the Marlins followed the protocols, too.
Manfred noted that three players weren’t in the lineup Sunday after getting positive results. “A small number of players” were quarantined, he said, after contact tracing showed they met the Centers for Disease Control’s distance and duration guidelines for being at risk of infection.
And although Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas said the players who were cleared to play agreed in a group text message that they wanted to do so, Manfred said the decision belonged to MLB. Rojas, it should be noted, got three hits Sunday and reportedly tested positive this week.
“We ordered additional testing, we did symptom checks, we did temperature checks, and decided to proceed with the game on Sunday,” Manfred said. “I don’t put this in the ‘nightmare’ category. We built the protocols to allow us to continue to play.”
But Manfred also said the Marlins’ outbreak will prompt MLB to review those protocols “to see whether there’s anything that we learned from this situation that might cause us to make alterations.” One of those changes, according to an ESPN report, will involve a compliance officer traveling with teams on the road to enforce guidelines about not leaving the hotel and socially distancing while there.
Klentak noted that the Phillies are talking about having a seating chart on team buses and planes that force the separation of infielders, catchers, and other position players to avoid losing a large portion of the lineup via contact tracing if there is a positive test. Other teams would be wise to follow that example.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi called this “a great wake-up call for baseball.” That’s the most optimistic way to look at it.
“As far as what could have been prevented or contained on the other side, I don’t know the answer to that,” Klentak said. “I do have confidence right now that MLB — they are adjusting as they go through and so are the teams.”