The score was not counted, both teams wore the same uniforms, and the game lasted just three innings. But the Phillies’ intrasquad scrimmage on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park was the team’s first “game” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
And as Rhys Hoskins stood at first base, he wondered if that meant he should be wearing a mask.
“Initially, I thought that anytime I was on the field, I would not be wearing a mask,” Hoskins said while wearing a mask on a Zoom call with reporters. “But maybe it’s something I keep in my back pocket in a Ziploc baggie or something. When somebody gets on first, I throw it on.”
Major League Baseball is not requiring players to wear masks this season during games or practices, but coaches and staff must wear face coverings. The players wear their masks around the ballpark, but most players remove them when they take the field.
Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura, and Ronald Torreyes played the infield on Wednesday with masks on.
“These are pretty comfortable,” Hoskins said. “Hot for sure, but the expense of being hot is worth not catching this thing and potentially ruining a season. It’s definitely something I’ll have to give thought to and ask the trainers and see what they say and go from there. I’m not opposed to it.”
It was a meaningless game, but the Phillies did follow most of the safety protocols they have to play with once the season starts. Players were not allowed to spit or shake hands and they swapped out a baseball once two or more players touched it.
Gregorius hit a grand slam into empty seats and gave the fielders air high-fives as he circled the bases, but Neil Walker asked if he was being ejected after he slapped Gregorius’ hand. Andrew Knapp cocked his arm and readied to fire to third base after catching strike three, but stopped his motion because throwing around the horn is barred.
The scrimmage provided a glimpse of what a baseball game in 2020 could look like.
“I would definitely say the spitting, right,” Hoskins said about what habit will be the hardest to break. “Especially when you’re on the baseball field, around the baseball field, you’ve got sunflower seeds, gum, something. But that’s just a habit I think all of us have had while we’re on the field. I was talking with Kyle Garlick today when he was on first. I’ve got to like train myself to not spit. That’s a little weird.”
While playing first base, Hoskins will find himself standing close to baserunners nearly every inning. He’ll stand on the bag to tag them out as they run down the line, hold them on first as they try to take leads, and attempt to tag them as they slide back after a pick-off throw. It will be impossible at times for a first baseman to socially distance.
“Maybe that can be avoided if I’m wearing a mask,” Hoskins said. “So maybe it might make some more sense if I am wearing a mask in the field.”
The players and staff are tested every other day for the coronavirus and have their temperatures checked throughout the day. The team has implemented social-distancing guidelines throughout the ballpark and hand sanitizer is as prevalent as sunflower seeds.
But playing a season — even a shortened 60-game schedule — will be a challenge during the pandemic. A player will likely miss weeks if he contracts the virus. Perhaps wearing a mask could help baseball’s chances of reaching October.
“I think a lot of it depends on how things are going inside our clubhouse and all of baseball and how things are going in cities that we’re playing in and all that sort of thing,” manager Joe Girardi said when asked if he expected players to wear masks this season.
“I think it’s too early to predict what guys will do. There’s been talk that there’s other masks coming out that might be a little bit more comfortable to wear and maybe not so hot and feel like they’re heavy. I definitely think it’s possible that guys are going to wear masks.”