Yankees: How NYY Players Are Breaking the Back of the Coronavirus

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 15: Pitching coach Larry Rothschild #58 of the New York Yankees congratulates closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman #54 after the Yankees win 3-1 during game two of a double header against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on May 15, 2019 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 15: Pitching coach Larry Rothschild #58 of the New York Yankees congratulates closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman #54 after the Yankees win 3-1 during game two of a double header against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on May 15, 2019 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
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As the MLB season gets underway, Yankees players and coaches are ready to compete hard against opposing teams and the coronavirus.

With the start of the 2020 abbreviated baseball season, at least three Yankees players have already tested positive for COVID-19: infielder D.J. LeMahieu and pitchers Aroldis Chapman and Luis Cessa. In addition to getting back into playing shape, Yankee teammates have been working hard during the shortened Summer Camp to prevent the spread of the virus.

As MLB fans are aware, the league and the players’ union drafted a 113-page operations manual of rules and procedures to avoid spreading COVID-19 during the 60-game abbreviated season. The document addresses everything from testing guidelines to proper spacing throughout the stadium, to best practices using bathrooms on charter plane flights.

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Yankee players are well aware that a great deal of their entrenched behavior will need to be modified or eliminated to decrease the likelihood of infection and keep the season successfully moving forward. Included among the prohibited actions in the MLB document are: using public transportation to get to the stadium, frequenting public restaurants while on the road, participating in brawls against an opponent, using smokeless tobacco, and eating sunflower seeds.

James Wagner wrote an in-depth and informative article in last Sunday’s New York Times reviewing attitudes and reactions by Yankee players concerning the new procedures. Recently reassigned Jordan Montgomery feels that the bans on spitting and licking fingers are the hardest behaviors for him to change because it’s something he does unconsciously. With the new rules, he is now more aware about such possible contaminants.

High-fives, fist bumps, and hugs are to be avoided, according to the MLB manual. Reliever Adam Ottavino has found it easy to sidestep those behaviors. However, stopping spitting and adjusting to the new shower regulations have required a greater effort on his part. Players must not share soap or shampoo. Ottavino forgot this early on and had to go back to his locker to retrieve his soap and shampoo before entering the shower.

While masks are required inside MLB stadiums, players are not forced to wear them while on the field, or in the bullpen or dugout. Although relief pitcher Zach Britton wore a face covering while playing catch on the field and while in the dugout, he did not wear a face covering when he took the mound during a recent intrasquad game.

During intrasquad games leading up to the beginning of the new season, only two Bombers have worn masks during games. Outfielder Clint Frazier said he was motivated to wear a face-covering because at least three teammates have tested positive for COVID-19. His proximity to the catcher and umpire has also convinced him of the need to wear a mask in the batter’s box. Catcher Kyle Higashioka has worn a mask during intrasquad games, too.

The normal flow of communications and interactions between players, coaches, and staff have been challenged as well. They now more frequently communicate through an app instead of in person. Also, manager Aaron Boone addresses the team in person by speaking to separate smaller groups of players. Pregame pitching strategy meetings are held in a large room with face coverings on, and with all attendees sitting at a distance.

Boone expects players and coaches (including himself) will become more knowledgeable and used to the new regulations as the 2020 season progresses. Early on, players were easily distracted by the game on the field, and they would forget to distance themselves in the dugout. Outfielder Aaron Hicks believes that players will become even more vigilant about the rules and their behavior, especially when traveling, once the season starts.

During a recent team meeting, the Yanks were told that they have four months to go out there and win a World Series, and that it is important that everybody is on the field and can play. Players were told that they can spit and eat sunflower seeds and go out to a restaurant as much as they want once the short season is over.

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It is certainly difficult to break old habits, especially when Yankee players are told to do so almost overnight. The strong desire to win a championship this season, however, has become a powerful motivator for Yankees players to follow the rules, stay safe, and avoid getting the virus.

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