Baseball Players Know They Shouldn’t Spit. But Old Habits Die Hard.

Baseball Players Know They Shouldn’t Spit. But Old Habits Die Hard.

Baseball Players Know They Shouldn’t Spit. But Old Habits Die Hard.

Baseball Players Know They Shouldn’t Spit. But Old Habits Die Hard.

During a recent practice game at Yankee Stadium, pitcher Jordan Montgomery occasionally wiped his nose with his hand between pitches. Behind the plate, catcher Gary Sanchez spit to his side a few times. Frequently, Manager Aaron Boone sat or stood just a couple feet away from some of his coaches or an umpire to chat. A day later, outfielder Aaron Judge smacked palms and fists with several teammates after smashing a home run.

All of these actions are either forbidden or discouraged by Major League Baseball these days, but old habits are hard to break — especially if you have played baseball for many years. Spitting, high-fiving and sidling up to teammates in the dugout are basically part of the job description.

But the Yankees, like the other 29 M.L.B. teams who have gone back to work this month, are certainly trying.

“I’m trying to hold back, get used to that and make that second nature, but I’ve been spitting a lot when pitching for a long time,” pitcher Adam Ottavino said. “It’s kind of a nervous tic.”

M.L.B. and the players’ union crafted a 113-page operations manual of guidelines and protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during its 60-game season, which starts on Thursday. The guidebook details everything from testing procedures to proper spacing throughout the stadium to best practices on charter-plane bathrooms.

While the entire season is unlikely to hinge on an errant high five, players know that much of their ingrained behavior will need to change to decrease their odds of infection, and keep the season on track.

Among the prohibited actions in the M.L.B. manual: taking public transportation to the stadium, eating at public restaurants while on the road, fighting an opponent and using smokeless tobacco or sunflower seeds.

Montgomery said the bans on spitting and licking fingers were the hardest rules for him “because it’s something I do and don’t even think about.” But, he added, “I’ve been doing better.”

High fives, first bumps and hugs are to be avoided, according to the M.L.B. manual; Ottavino said dropping those had been a relatively easy adjustment. Curbing spitting and adapting to the new shower edicts have required more effort.

“There’s no communal soap or shampoo,” he said last week. “The first two times to clean myself up and get out of here, I forgot it and had to go back to my locker.”

While masks are now required indoors at major league stadiums, players do not have to wear them while on the field, in the bullpen or in the dugout. Pitcher Zack Britton wore a face covering while playing catch on the field and in the dugout after appearing in an intrasquad game, recently, but not when he took the mound.

“If I was having issues licking my fingers, I would probably put it on so it would prevent me from doing that,” he said. “So far, I’ve been able to break that habit.”

Only two Yankees have worn masks during intrasquad games, a practice they might carry into the regular season: outfielder Clint Frazier and catcher Kyle Higashioka. Frazier, who has struggled to break into the Yankees’ everyday lineup the past couple seasons, said he was motivated to wear one because at least three of his teammates — infielder D.J. LeMahieu and pitchers Aroldis Chapman and Luis Cessa — had tested positive for the coronavirus and he is near two other people when in the batter’s box.

“I want to make sure that I’m not the reason why it spreads to anybody, and I can play if it does get spread to someone else,” he said. He added later, “I want to make sure if there is somebody out there that sees me wearing the mask, maybe they’ll do it as well.”

The Yankees, like many teams, have used the recent intrasquad games not only to get ready for the season but to adjust to their new normal. In addition to following the new protocols, the Yankees have played music softly during intrasquad games and are toying with pumping in crowd noise to prepare for games without fans. Pitchers have each brought their own rosin bag to the mound.

During a recent practice contest, pitcher Gerrit Cole wanted to keep using a ball after a strikeout since he liked the way it felt, but couldn’t because it had been thrown around the diamond by Sanchez and the infielders, a once common practice that is also now discouraged. Per M.L.B.’s new protocols, the ball had to be removed and replaced with a new one.

“There’s going to be some added preparation in terms of really knowing the rules before we get out there, and that’s kind of all of our responsibilities,” Cole said. “It falls under the job description of playing under a pandemic.”

The normal flow of team dynamics and chemistry has been thrown off, too, because Yankees players and coaches are spread throughout the stadium and their workout times have been staggered. Players, coaches and staff members communicate more frequently through an app. When Boone has addressed the team in person, he has done so in smaller groups. Pregame pitching strategy meetings are held in a large conference room, with masks on and everyone at a distance.

Pitcher Michael King, whose locker is in the visiting clubhouse, said every other stall is empty and everyone wears a mask. “It almost kind of prevents us from talking,” he said. “You feel uncomfortable talking. It’s a little silent in there.”

Boone said he hoped that players and coaches — himself included — would become more accustomed to the new rules as the two-month season progressed. He noted how easy it was, especially early on, to be distracted by work and to forget to put on a mask for a meeting or drift toward someone in the dugout during a game.

Outfielder Aaron Hicks said players planned to be vigilant of each other’s behavior. But, knowing his teammates, he did not expect that to be a difficult task, particularly when traveling during the season.

“I’m not too worried about my team going out and getting wild because they like their video games,” he said.

To drive home that point, Judge said the message during a recent team meeting was clear: “We’ve got four months to go out there and win a championship and we want everybody on the field. You can spit and chew sunflower seeds and go out to a restaurant once this is all over.”




Source link

Check Also

Rockets’ Russell Westbrook Traded to Wizards for John Wall

Rockets’ Russell Westbrook Traded to Wizards for John Wall

Rockets’ Russell Westbrook Traded to Wizards for John Wall Rockets’ Russell Westbrook Traded to Wizards …