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A day at an MLB ballpark will be different in 2020

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An overview of some of the new MLB healthy and safety protocols

Colorado Rockies v Los Angeles Dodgers
This type of closeness, for purposes of an argument or altercation, will not be allowed in 2020 in MLB.
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

We knew going in that the 2020 Major League Baseball season was going to be an odd one, unlike any other we’ve ever seen, beyond the fact that the schedule is only 60 games. A review of the 101-page operations manual agreed to Tuesday by major league players and owners shows just how different this season will be on the field.

Testing

But before they even get to the field, players and coaches (as well as clubhouse staff, front office staff, baseball operations people, team communications employees, and more) have to give themselves a home screening every morning, taking their temperature with an MLB-supplied oral thermometer, and complete a symptom and exposure questionnaire via mobile app. Anyone with symptoms or a temperature above 100.4 degrees won’t be allowed to enter team facilities.

Players and coaches will be tested for the coronavirus every other day, beginning in spring training and throughout the regular season. Antibody tests will be conducted roughly once per month.

Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus must self isolate and won’t be allowed at team facilities. There is a special COVID-19 related injured list for this year, with no minimum or maximum length. A player can’t rejoin the team until all of the following occur:

  • Two negative coronavirus tests, at least 24 hours apart.
  • No fever for at least three days.
  • Completion of an antibody test.
  • If necessary, a cardiac evaluation, at the discretion of the team physician.
  • Team physician, the joint committee (a 4-person MLB panel with two physicians and one non-medical person from each of MLB and MLBPA), and any other treating physician all agree “the individual no longer presents a risk of infection to others and is healthy enough to return to his or her usual professional responsibilities, in accordance with CDC guidance.”

The ballpark

Once all the testing is complete and daily temperature and symptom checks are done, it’s finally time to go to the stadium. Only you can’t show up more than five hours before the first pitch, unless you are rehabbing an injury. And 90 minutes after the game ends, the clubhouse is closed. Time to go home.

Showering is discouraged, but not prohibited.

The operations manual notes “clubs should consider requiring” players and coaches to arrive at the park already dressed for the game, to limit time in the clubhouse. So if you see the guy in the full Mookie Betts uniform at Guisados at 2:30 p.m. before that night’s 7 p.m. game, it just might be him.

No saunas and steam rooms are allowed this season, though hydrotherapy and cryotherapy are, albeit one player at a time.

Equipment shouldn’t be shared between players, the operations manual says, unless said equipment is cleaned and disinfected before each use. This will be interesting if, say, Chris Taylor borrows Max Muncy’s bat and hits a home run.

MLB says players and coaches must avoid high fives, fist bumps, or hugs, which seems impossible. The operations manual adds, everyone involved must wash their hands before and after such an act.

No more communal water or Powerade jugs. Only personal drink bottles or contactless water dispensers. So we won’t get to see this in 2020, it seems:

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Also players are encouraged to use only single-use towels during workouts, training, and games, and discard them immediately after use. No sharing of towels, either.

One of the eye-opening parts of the initial draft of the health and safety protocols was that spitting was outlawed, a daunting task considering just how often and how involuntary players and coaches spit during a game. That ban on spitting remains in effect in the finalized version of the operations manual, at all times when at team facilities, including when on the field.

The ban specifically includes, but is not limited to, saliva, sunflower seeds, and tobacco.

Keep your distance

The most striking change, visually, besides the lack of celebrations that require touching, will be just how far apart everyone will be, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

MLB is encouraging most meetings, whenever possible, to be held outdoors, to limit having people in close proximity with one another. Most clubhouses won’t be able to have every player in at one time, so teams might have to stagger availability for a few players at a time, and likely expand into common areas to create more space. For determining a room’s capacity, if anyone is in a particular space for more than 15 minutes, there can’t be more than one person per 36 square feet, and every player must be at least six feet apart.

Everyone must wear face coverings at all time when in clubhouses, training rooms, weight rooms and other restricted areas, though players aren’t required to wear them when on the field, dugout, or bullpen, or “when otherwise engaging in other strenuous activities.” Coaches and other uniformed personnel don’t have to wear face coverings while on the field.

In the bullpen, each pitcher will have their own set of baseballs. And perhaps my favorite part of the operations manual is that “double-barrel action” is codified:

Multiple pitchers should avoid throwing bullpens at the same time unless necessary in-game (e.g., double-barrel action in the bullpen)

Players will need to physically distance from each other in the bullpen and dugout, such that it might require some players sitting in the stands during games. Only players in the lineup or who are expected to enter the game at some point are expected in the dugout, so expect the other four starting pitchers to be sitting in the stands or in whatever alternate area is provided on days they don’t pitch.

What’s that sign say?

The Dodgers will play the Astros this season, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that fighting is prohibited. Per the operations manual: “Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action. Violations of these rules will result in severe discipline consistent with past precedent, which discipline shall not be reduced or prorated based on the length of the season.”

In addition, players and managers who ignore physical distancing (i.e. come within six feet) for purposes of an argument with an umpire or someone on the opposing team will be immediately ejected, and subject to possible suspensions and/or fines.

So be nice everybody. And keep your distance.