The splat of balls hitting gloves, laughter and baseball chatter echoed around the sparsely populated Coliseum on Saturday as the A’s held their first workout since the sport shut down in March.
Things are decidedly not normal. Oakland’s pitchers and catchers worked in staggered groups, coaches maintained their distance, masks were de rigueur. And behind the scenes, club officials raced around ensuring MLB’s 100-plus-page coronavirus safety protocol manual was implemented properly.
“Everything is going to be different,” manager Bob Melvin said Saturday on a video call with reporters, who, to emphasize his point, were not in the interview with him but were spaced out at outdoor tables behind the home dugout while asking questions. “Everyone has to deal with it. It’s not comfortable, what we have to do, but we’ll get used to it as we go along. The quicker we find routines, the easier it will be to deal with it.”
For reliever Liam Hendriks, new routines mean using the visitors’ mound Sunday, plus no longer licking his fingers when he has a baseball in his hand.
“I’ve been consciously trying to do that, training myself like you’d train a dog,” Hendriks said. “I’m picking a ball up and refraining from going to my mouth — and then I usually get a treat after that. I have to stop that because I’m back on my diet now we’re starting up.”
For equipment manager Steve Vucinich, that meant amassing 10 times more baseballs than usual. Teams must replace balls far more frequently, every pitcher has his own stock, and everything has to be rotated out of action for five days, disinfected with a 360 electrostatic spray system and stored in a room with ultraviolet lights.
Vucinich’s clubhouse workers will be wiping things down constantly, a specialty janitorial service will come in to clean after workouts, and touch points have been eliminated everywhere possible. Players’ chairs bear their numbers so no one else will sit there, and they’ll now have individual hat boxes so no one else has to touch sweaty caps. Typically, teams have one or two large hatboxes for the entire team.
Masks are required — and the league is providing 15,000 per team initially, and if the entire season is played, clubs could go through as many as 40,000.
When position players report Sunday, they will be responsible for their own equipment — batboys can pick up bats only by the barrel, using gloves, so players will have to bring out anything else they need, including doughnut weights for the batting circle, and remove them again when they’re done.
No one will be allowed in the dugout unless strictly necessary and physical distancing rules must still be followed; sunflower seeds won’t be provided, as spitting is forbidden. Catcher Sean Murphy bemoaned the fact players can no longer play cards.
“All of it was weird,” Murphy said after the workout. “The whole thing was weird from the get-go.”
Players will be tested frequently, and if anyone has a fever, they’ll be sent home to quarantine. If anyone is sick at the ballpark, they’ll be isolated in a room until they can be evaluated and potentially quarantined.
“It’s really well thought-out, really professional,” A’s team physician Dr. Allan Pont said. “Is it going to work? God only knows. But if you’re going to design a good plan, this might be it, but the best plans of mice and men often go astray. There has to be a degree of responsibility by the players that the care they take on the field isn’t destroyed by what they do off the field.”
Will the safety protocols be enough to ensure there is a season? Few around the sport believe that the full slate of 60 games will be played, but Pont is not among the naysayers. “I think it’s a pretty strong possibility we’ll get the season in,” he said. “At the stadium, things are very well controlled. It’s the travel that’s my one fear. You have a lot of people siting on a plane, on a bus, in the elevator.”
Travel secretary Mickey Morabito said the flight crew will be tested frequently and will wear masks, hot meals won’t be served and players will be spaced out around the team plane; only two trips — one to Texas and Houston, one to Texas and Colorado — will require flights longer than 100 minutes. At hotels, teams will stay on low floors so they can avoid elevators, and housekeeping will be by request only.
“Players are being encouraged not to leave the hotel,” Morabito said. “I don’t know how that will work — I am hoping guys will police themselves. But a lot of this is going to be out of our hands. If some states put in shelter-in-place orders, you’re going to have to dump this.”
Melvin said he will emphasize in his team meeting Sunday — with players spread out in the stands — that it’s up to them to keep everyone else safe, mentioning at-risk reliever Jake Diekman (ulcerative colitis) in particular. “It’s very important for us to take this seriously,” Melvin said. “It’s only for a few months.”
There is plenty of incentive.
“We have to do the best we can to minimize the virus in our clubhouse,” Melvin said. “Teams that are able to do that and stay healthy will have a leg up on other teams.”
Susan Slusser is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @susanslusser