Players return to COVID protocols as spring training opens

FILE - Arizona Diamondbacks Madison Bumgarner throws against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game in Arlington, Texas, in this Wednesday, July 29, 2020, file photo. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo enters his fifth year with the Diamondbacks   and the final year of his current contract  under a substantial amount of scrutiny. The Diamondbacks are hoping left-hander Madison Bumgarner can turn into the top-of-the-rotation starter they wanted him to be when he signed an $85 million, five-year deal before last season. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter, File)
FILE - Arizona Diamondbacks Madison Bumgarner throws against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game in Arlington, Texas, in this Wednesday, July 29, 2020, file photo. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo enters his fifth year with the Diamondbacks and the final year of his current contract under a substantial amount of scrutiny. The Diamondbacks are hoping left-hander Madison Bumgarner can turn into the top-of-the-rotation starter they wanted him to be when he signed an $85 million, five-year deal before last season. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

One year later, players and managers say they have a better understanding of what it takes to play baseball through a pandemic.

Pitchers and catchers around the game reported to spring training Wednesday saying they appreciate what’s at stake as they try to make sure the season starts on time. The protocols have been tightened even further from what they experienced during the abbreviated 2020 season.

“We’ve all gone through a year of this, of living through this,” New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “And so I think we’re a little, much better equipped of how to handle ourselves, how to conduct ourselves, how to make good use of our time.”

New standards agreed to by Major League Baseball and the players’ association require players, staffers and other team personnel to wear electronic tracing wristbands for ballpark access. Players underwent a five-day at-home quarantine before reporting, with exceptions for essential activities and approved outdoor workouts and exercise.

They’ll need to stay in their living quarters throughout spring training except for baseball activities, medical care, grocery shopping, takeout food pickups and outdoor physical activity. Outdoor dining will only be allowed if they get permission beforehand.

“Between the players' union and MLB, the agreement I think is pretty rock-solid when it comes to player safety, staff safety,” Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito said Tuesday. “There’s going to be a few things that are a little more, what’s the word for it, given more importance. I think some of the workouts are going to be in smaller groups, a lot more on point with mask wearing and things like that. I don’t think it will affect our work too much. We’ll certainly be able to get done what we need to get done.”

But the restrictions will make it more challenging to get ready for the season.

Catcher James McCann faces hurdles this spring trying to bond with an entirely new pitching staff after signing a $40 million, four-year deal with New York Mets. Normally, the veteran backstop would invite pitchers to dinner, set up play dates for their kids, go out and grab a drink — anything to help develop those relationships.