As 'spring' training shifts to Comerica Park, Tigers' enthusiasm tempered by positive COVID-19 tests
Detroit — The excitement of finally having a baseball season to look forward to, albeit a truncated 60-game version, was bound to be tempered by the ever-lingering shadow of the coronavirus.
It didn’t take long for that reality to hit Wednesday when Tigers general manager Al Avila confirmed a player and a staff member had recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“The staff member was not a baseball person and the player was living in Florida, but he wasn’t working out in our facility,” said Avila, who wasn't authorized to release the names.
He said both were in the process of recovery and wouldn’t speculate if the player would be ready to report to training camp by July 1. There is no set time for how long players who test positive need to be isolated.
According to the health and safety protocols agreed to by the league and the players' union Tuesday night, before a player can return after a positive test, he must:
►Test negative twice in a row.
►Have no fever for at least 72 hours.
►Pass a cardiac exam.
►Be cleared by both the league and doctors.
“This year is going to look different, any way you shake it,” Tigers pitcher and player rep Matthew Boyd said. “It’s a new normal and that’s perfectly OK. Normal is what you make of it. But so many tests are going to happen, there is a high likelihood that a lot of guys will either have antibodies or have the virus.
“We will have to navigate that as we go.”
Coaches and players, who will all be tested before camp starts and every day after, were given the option of sitting out the season if they felt it was too risky. Avila said no Tigers’ players or coaches took the option — though several, including Boyd and manager Ron Gardenhire, are considered high risk.
“We had guys asking good questions, me included,” Boyd said. “I’m high-risk. I’ve had asthma my whole life and I’m medicated for it. There is a risk going into this. You’ve got to be cautious and you’ve got to be smart.
“Luckily we’ve got health professionals all around and we will be monitored every day.”
Boyd never considered sitting out.
“You have to be smart, but you can’t live in fear,” he said. “You go out and adapt the best you can to our world today.”
Though he may playfully grouse about possibly having to wear a mask and not being able to go out to the mound to make a pitching change, Gardenhire never thought about skipping the season.
“I’ve had cancer and I’ve been a diabetic and those aren’t good things,” said Gardenhire, who is 62. “But I look for people to take care of us who have knowledge — doctors and trainers. They are giving us all the information we need and we’ll go by that.
“To say I’m uneasy, yeah, I am. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want my wife to get sick. I don’t want anybody to get sick. Is it a risk, absolutely. We all know that. But I would never want to jump ship on my team.”
The Tigers were planning on returning to their training facilities in Lakeland, Florida, but a recent spike in positive tests in the state forced the league to shut down all training-camp sites last weekend.
That caused the Tigers to shift gears. Training camp, featuring 60 players, will take place at Comerica Park, with some possible spill-over to Fifth Third Field in Toledo.
“Lakeland would have been the best place from a baseball perspective,” Avila said. “But from a safety standpoint and MLB recommendations and our medical staff recommendations, we thought that the prudent thing was to come back to Detroit.”
Avila said players will be spaced among three clubhouses (Tigers’, visitors’ and an auxiliary locker room). The 60 players will be broken into smaller groups and workouts will be spaced out throughout the day.
“We will work out the players in waves, one group in the morning, another in the afternoon,” Avila said. “The logistics are difficult but Gardy and Josh Paul (quality-control coach) have put together a good program.
“Having 60 players on one field is a difficult task, but it’s doable.”
But, as Gardenhire said, it's also a little dangerous.
“Definitely makes you a little uneasy when you’ve got 60 guys walking through there and a bunch of coaches (both the Major League staff and several minor-league coaches and instructors),” he said. “We’re just going to follow the protocols and do everything right as best we can.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen as we go forward. It’s a very dangerous situation, it could be. In our country, it has been. Everyone is aware of it. Just move forward as best we can with safety being the No. 1 priority.”
Not playing, he said, would've been far worse.
"It would be silly and naive if you (thought) this was gonna be a perfect situation," Gardenhire said. "But we want to play baseball. The guys want to play baseball, and I think our fans would love to be able to see baseball on TV and watch the Tigers play.
"So we're going to do that."