The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyone’s life in ways big and small. That includes the Orioles.
Outfielder Anthony Santander, who announced on Wednesday that he had tested positive for Covid-19, took live batting practice on Friday, and manager Brandon Hyde said he was satisfied with his progress.
Hyde thinks that Santander can be ready when the Orioles open the 60-game 2020 season next Friday night in Boston.
Dwight Smith Jr. was cleared to play on Friday, and his availability is unclear.
The players are thankful for the health protocols that Major League Baseball and the Orioles have been following since summer training started on July 3rd. Spring training was shut down on March 12th because of the virus.
Left-handed reliever Richard Bleier has no issues with the new rules.
“If I did, once I saw the safety protocols that MLB put in place, I didn’t anymore,” he said in a video conference call on Friday.
“They’re definitely looking out for the safety of the players here. It’s been extremely impressive, especially what the Orioles are doing here.
“Everything is very strict. The second that I’m done eating, if I don’t put my mask on, I feel like I’m getting chased down the halls. We’re running a tight ship, and rightfully so. It could work out because of the strict protocols put in place.”
Hyde said that he’s been pleased with the preparation and explanations.
“It really starts with the ownership, and the senior leadership team in putting everything in place and really making our health a priority,” Hyde said.
“I feel like [head athletic trainer] Brian Ebel and his staff have been amazing, working with our senior leadership team, ownership and really keeping our players, coaches … safe. We noticed when we first got here, all the time and effort that was put in that, and it was really thoughtful how they were treating us with their safety and health, first and foremost.”
Making health a priority during this challenging time is understood.
“Our guys are really appreciative of that,” Hyde said. “We haven’t had [many] complaints, if any. It’s run ridiculously smooth with all the things we’re doing every day it’s as smooth as it can possibly be, and that really starts with the leadership of this organization and what they have put in place for us, and our players have bought into that and followed suit.”
Right-handed pitcher Thomas Eshelman is convinced his teammates are taking Covid-19 seriously inside and outside of Camden Yards.
“We had a team meeting about it, and everyone’s pretty serious about it,” Eshelman said.
“We understand the consequences that will happen if we so get exposed to the virus and what it can do to affect our team as a whole.
“Obviously, you see Santander and Dwight. They’re out for a long time … and understand the consequences of how it will affect us as a squad and understand how this will affect our season. We just have to understand the safety procedures to follow and continuously follow them. Our training staff here has done an unbelievable job in making sure we follow the restrictions.”
Social distancing is not always easy.
“It’s been a challenge for me,” Bleier said. “We’re still around each other—and outside, not near each other, but we still have a good time, responsibly, but it has been an adjustment for myself and my personality.
“Probably people are enjoying it to a point. There are some positives. It’s different. It’s just something we all have to get used to and make the best of the situation and get the job done.”
In his second season as Orioles manager, Hyde is spending less time with his family than he did during his initial season. His young son, Colten, often was around the team last season, and traveled on some road trips.
“It’s been tough, family-wise,” Hyde said. “I haven’t seen my family since I’ve been here. I don’t know when I will, to be honest with you. My son is in Little League right now. They crammed about 50 games into about 50 days in Chicago He’s got a game almost every night, and I don’t want to pull him away from that because the season’s so short, and that’s what he loves to do.
“We’re all going to be living with that adjustment of being away from home. For a lot of us, we’re already away from home, but it’s going to be a lot harder for our families to travel in to see us on the road. It’s just going to be very, very difficult this year.
“Fortunately, we got to spend an extra couple of months of quality family time. It was nice to be home to be around the kids and my wife for that time. Right now, it’s just a lot different, for sure, and I know a lot of our guys are feeling the same way.”
The players won’t have fans to give them an added boost. For Thursday and Friday night’s intrasquad games, public address announcers were used. Canned crowd noise was pumped in, and walk-up and between-innings music was played.
“The crowd noise is a nice touch, and the cheers and all that, and the announcer and the music,” Bleier said.
“All that stuff is going to be beneficial to players to be able to treat it as much as possible as a regular major league season game with fans and stuff like that. I like the noise. It’s a good thing that MLB is doing.”
Each team has provided extended seating so that players can social distance. The Orioles installed tents just past first and third base so that extra players can sit there. Bleier watched Thursday night’s game from there.
“As far as the seating, under the tent, great seats, honestly,” Bleier said. “It was nice to watch a game there. There’s a different perspective for me. I haven’t watched a game in the stands since my minor league days of charting [pitches] behind home plate, but never from the first base side or the third base side. You see different things over there, definitely. It was fun.”
Notes: Hyde said that right-hander Dillon Tate (elbow) would begin playing catch in a day or two. He’s not expected to be ready for the opener … Hyde said he expected to begin the season with 15 or 16 pitchers on his 30-man roster.
Question time: Next week, I’ll be taking questions from readers. If you have one, either leave it in the comments, tweet it or email it to: [email protected].