No high-fives? No spitting? MLBers adjust in COVID world

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Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this May 4, 2018, photo, Washington Nationals Bryce Harper is hugged and lifted off the ground by his manager Dave Martinez in the dugout prior to the start of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park in Washington. High fives and fist bumps are out. Hugs are a no-go. And just like crying, there's no spitting in baseball, at least for now. Things sure will be different when it's time to play ball in two weeks. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

CHICAGO – Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez wanted to hug, high-five and fist bump his players. After all, the defending World Series champions spent nearly four months apart before resuming workouts last week.

Then, he remembered: Those are out. And just like crying, now there's no spitting in baseball, either.

“The first thing you want to do when you see the guys come in after not seeing them for a while, you want to give them a big hug, a fist bump, high-five,” Martinez said. “Had to stop myself today from almost spitting in my mask because I drank some water. You’re just used to it.”

Things sure will be different when it's time to play ball in two weeks. And it's won't just be the empty stands or 60-game schedule.

“You’ve got to change your ways a little bit and try to establish new routines,” Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant said. “But we shouldn’t be complaining about that because we all want this thing to work.”

Players are adjusting to a new normal after nearly four months away following the shutdown of training camps because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are being asked to set aside behaviors stitched into the game's fabric under rules designed to contain the novel coronavirus.

No easy task for such creatures of habit.

“I think the big thing is the difference between superstitions and habits,” said mentals skills coach Graham Betchart, who has worked with top athletes across the sports landscape. “If you're superstitious, you're probably going to be in big trouble right now. ... Superstitions are out the door because none of that stuff is going to be there. For a lot of people, it's a willingness to be uncomfortable, the right to evolve some of your habits."