Spring Training Report: COVID Will Loom Over Baseball For Another Season

(CBS Baltimore) — MLB has entered its second COVID spring training. Another COVID season isn’t far behind, and with any luck, this one will last 162 games rather than 60. While the pandemic has changed baseball, just as it’s changed everything else, the changes are now familiar. At the end of the day, it’s still baseball. And having games sure beats not having games.

Welcome to the first installment of the Spring Training Report. Every Monday (or possibly Tuesday) we will take a look around the Majors at the stories making headlines. This week that includes the continuing or revised COVID restrictions, Trey Mancini’s return from cancer in Baltimore and Tommy Pham’s stabbing last October.

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COVID Still Looms Over Baseball

The 2020 MLB season started late, included less than half as many games, and was played under somewhat limiting circumstances. Games didn’t have fans in attendance, which completely changed the ballpark atmosphere. Teams only played other teams in their division and the corresponding geographic division in the other league. Some players skipped the season out of concern for COVID, and others missed games after contracting the disease or coming in contact with someone or had. Everybody was tested… a lot.

The 2021 season will include many of the same precautions, though some will be loosened. Some fans will be allowed to attend some games this season. It all depends on the prevalence of the virus in the city or state where the home team plays and the local government’s rules regarding public gatherings. The Colorado Rockies will welcome 12,500 fans to home games. The Miami Marlins will allow 25 percent capacity at Marlins Park, which amounts to 9,300 fans. The Minnesota Twins have proposed 10,000 fans being allowed in seats. And the Philadelphia Phillies are hoping for a limited return to normal come April. Every place is different.

Many other rules will be applied consistently across baseball. Players will once again be tested at least every other day, with those who test positive required to quarantine for at least 10 days. Player activities outside the ballpark will be severely restricted. That means quarantining at spring training and limited interaction otherwise. Masks must always be worn, except on the field during games.

Games will also include rule changes carried over from last season. The top and bottom of each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base. Unsportsmanlike contact, especially in how it pertains to physical distancing, will bring with it stiff penalties.

Trey Mancini’s Triumphant Return

Baltimore Orioles first-baseman Trey Mancini returned to the lineup this weekend for the first time in a year. Last April he announced the diagnosis for stage-3 colon cancer he received in March. He missed the entire season, as he underwent chemotherapy. But the 28-year-old has been declared cancer-free and fit for baseball activities.

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Mancini received a standing ovation from those in attendance at the Orioles’ first spring training game with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was his first game since September 29, 2019. Batting second, he swatted a line-drive single to centerfield, advancing a runner from first to third base.

According to Mancini, “It was amazing. I almost teared up a bit, I’m not gonna lie.”

Mancini’s MLB debut came in September of 2016. In 2017, he finished third in the running for American League Rookie of the Year. The 2019 season saw him bat .291, with 35 home runs and 97 runs batted in.

Tommy Pham Feels Lucky

“I’m lucky to even be able to play,” said San Diego Padres outfielder Tommy Pham. Those were his first public words on the stabbing incident that required stitches and surgery and could have ended his career.

Pham was stabbed in the lower back near a San Diego nightclub last October. While the injury was not life-threatening — no vital organs were damaged — he did undergo surgery, receive 100 stitches and endure extensive rehab. Extra muscle in the area could have saved his life, according to doctors. The attack occurred after he asked two arguing strangers to get away from his car.

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Pham is looking to improve upon his first season with the Padres, after hitting just .211 with three HRs and 12 RBI in 109 at-bats. Other injuries are at least partially to blame for the drop-off from his previous season with the Tampa Bay Rays.