By Evan Grant
The Dallas Morning News
ARLINGTON — The Rangers are taking the precautions.
Robinson Chirinos said he planned to wear his face mask under his catching gear in games. Rougned Odor donned a mask during his virtual video interview. Masked manager Chris Woodward is keeping his coaches at a safe social distance. A week into summer camp, it’s clear the Rangers are trying to take all the guidelines and rules of baseball in the Coronavirus Era seriously.
And yet, it may not matter.
The Rangers and a handful of other teams face a potential competitive disadvantage in the short 60-game season merely because of their geography. It may be hot in the AL West, but it’s nothing like being in a COVID-19 hot spot.
As he watches numbers spike in Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, GM Jon Daniels can’t help but wonder about the potential impact on the 10 teams that call those states home. If the season goes off unimpeded, the Rangers will play 50 of their 60 games in those four states. Communal problems are baseball problems this season.
"We are not in a bubble or quarantine situation, so what goes on around us could have an impact on us," Daniels said. "Because you aren’t in a bubble, it’s not just the players, you worry about. It’s the players’ families, the people around the club, their families and all the people in the community they come into contact with.
"I’ve said there is a competitive edge to keeping players healthy and we’re going to do everything we can to do that," he added. "But there is also an element that is out of our control. So, beyond just the public health and safety issue, I’m also a little concerned from a baseball standpoint."
There is reason to be concerned: The Rangers have spent the first week of camp without Joey Gallo, their best offensive player, and Brett Martin. Martin has the virus. Gallo may or may not. He’s taken at least four tests in the last 10 days and results have alternated between positive for MLB’s-sanctioned saliva-based test and negative for the nasal swab that is available to the community at large. Both players were fortunately asymptomatic by Thursday.
Both might be back for the start of the season. But with players tested every other day, there are going to be more. If a player tests positive in-season, he’s likely to be out at least two weeks. That’s a quarter of the season. A team with a mass outbreak during the season would be overwhelmed.
"I don’t know why the public at-large would be at risk of infection, and we wouldn’t be here," Daniels said. "We’re trying to be careful, but so are a lot of people out there who have gotten it. I’m hopeful it doesn’t happen, but I think we’ve got to expect that it will."
Every team has received and distributed the MLB operations manual with all the strict protocols that make players prisoners in their homes and hostages in their hotel rooms. On the road, all food comes from room service or a delivery service. Players go to and from the stadium on a bus. That’s it for leaving the room.
"I’m going to bring my PlayStation," Odor said. "So that I can stay in my room all day and night."
A bold strategy. On one hand, Odor falls into the category of guys perceived as more likely to struggle with the stay-at-home edict: He’s in his 20s and if Gov. Greg Abbott has made one thing clear lately, it’s those gosh-darn twentysomethings with their sociability that is driving the spike. Odor is one of a half-dozen significant position players on the roster in their 20s. Both Gallo and Martin are in their 20s, too.
The easy perception is that guys with families who have been around the league a few times won’t be as challenged to stay in. Then again, several of those players have brought their families with them to Texas. More people in a household means more people in the community which means more risk.
There are no easy answers. All the Rangers — all any team — can do is continue to reinforce the message about safety.
"We’ve addressed it a couple times with our players, and not just our players but our staff, too," Daniels said. "Everybody needs to be careful, and we’ll continue to drive that home. The good thing is that our players are pushing that every bit as much as we are."
The bad news: There are still elements out of their control. Spending the season in the epicenter of the COVID-19 public health crisis could also pose bigger baseball challenges for the Rangers.