Cardboard cutouts are long gone. Same with all that bogus, pumped-up stadium noise. For players, there are no more face masks in dugouts or clubhouses. Much less spitting in the test cups.
Yet amid COVID-19 restrictions in Canada and New York, one thing has become clear over the past week as baseball accelerates toward the 2022 season:
“Life hasn’t returned to normal yet,” Yankees reliever Zack Britton said Wednesday.
Yankees and Mets fans were reeling on Tuesday by New York’s confirmation that the same vaccine mandate from the private employer that sidelined NBA star Kyrie Irving for Brooklyn Nets home games would also apply to outdoor baseball parks in the Bronx and Queens.
That concern took to another level after Yankees star Aaron Judge took a tough sidestep when asked on Tuesday if he was vaccinated.
The Mets could also be seriously affected. Last year they were among six teams that failed to reach the 85 per cent vaccination rate among field staff, including players, needed for relaxed virus protocols under the health plan and Safety of Major League Baseball.
Yankees President Hal Steinbrenner said Wednesday that team president Randy Levine is talking with the city about finding a solution before the April 7 opener.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference Wednesday that athletes were not his primary concern, but added that he would work with MLB.
“We will do an analysis. Baseball season is not tomorrow. It’s not next week. We will solve this problem. We will keep New Yorkers safe without continuing the spread of COVID,” he said, adding “but I’m not going to be rushed based on a season schedule.”
Britton, a member of the players’ association executive sub-committee, said Wednesday the union was also in communication with government officials and anticipated there could be complications.
“We just knew because the Irving stuff was happening,” Britton told The Associated Press. “I think the indoor-outdoor location was maybe a bit of a question mark on that. But I think it was something we knew we had to address before the start of the season.”
“Let’s hope logic wins out,” Max Scherzer, a Mets freshman ace and subcommittee member, told reporters.
The union and the league agreed under a new contract reached last week that unvaccinated players will not receive wages or time on duty if they miss games in Toronto against the Blue Jays due to the Canada’s vaccination requirement for entry. Boarder issues have led to speculation of an unusual home-court advantage for the Jays.
The Boston Red Sox are better prepared for that after several players were vaccinated this offseason, including Xander Bogaerts and Christian Arroyo. The club failed to reach 85% vaccination last year and were hit hard by the virus late in the season.
Ace left-hander Chris Sale said on Wednesday he chose not to be vaccinated, but will miss Boston’s first visit to Toronto from April 25-28 anyway due to a stress fracture in his cage. thoracic.
Many other things about sports will take significant steps towards normalcy.
Under updated health and safety protocols announced Wednesday, COVID-19 intake testing remains, but after that players will only be tested when they show signs or report symptoms. Players and team personnel should wear masks in clubs and other indoor spaces only if required by local regulations.
“I know it helps guys’ mentality all year round where they can have family and they can go see family,” Oakland Athletics pitcher Daulton Jeffries said. “Just to give them a bit of a break from the baseball routine.”
The league is also maintaining the ability to move games if the public health situation in an area deteriorates and “will only postpone games if necessary to protect the health and safety of club staff, players and referees.” The COVID-19 injured list remains, but players with one positive test can walk out with two negative tests.
“It’s nice that things feel more normal,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “And it really feels like that.”
HIGH FLYING BIRDS
The star-studded Blue Jays added a three-time Golden Glove winner to their infield, acquiring third baseman Matt Chapman from the Oakland Athletics, who is losing payroll.
A five-year veteran, Chapman hit .201 with 27 home runs and 72 RBIs in 151 games for the Athletics last season. He was an All-Star for the first time in 2019.
Since the lockout ended, the A’s have also dealt All-Star right-hander Chris Bassitt to the New York Mets and first baseman Matt Olson to Atlanta. The three trades cut Oakland’s projected payroll by about $30 million.
Oakland received right-hander Gunnar Hoglund, Toronto’s first pick in the 2021 entry draft, minor league left-hander Zach Logue, left-handed reliever Kirby Snead and infielder Kevin Smith.
Kyle Schwarber has agreed to a four-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies worth around $80 million, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity as the deal was subject to a successful physical examination.
A 29-year-old outfielder, Schwarber shared last season with Washington and Boston. He hit .266 with 32 homers and won a grand slam for the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series.
Schwarber also got a few reps at first base with Boston, but he’s more likely to be used as a designated hitter for the Phillies as the NL embraces the DH.
FROM THE FAR EAST TO THE NORTH SIDE
The Chicago Cubs and Japanese star outfielder Seiya Suzuki have agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract, a person familiar with the situation told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deal was awaiting physical examination.
The deal signals the Cubs hope to speed up the rebuilding process after severing their 2016 championship core before last season’s trade deadline.
The 27-year-old Suzuki was a five-time All-Star and Golden Glove winner in nine seasons with Japan’s Central League Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He hit .317 with 38 homers and 88 RBI in 132 games last season and had almost as many walks (87) as strikeouts (88). He is a career .315 hitter with 182 home runs and 562 RBIs for Hiroshima.
Chicago will pay an additional $14,625,000 in posting fees to Carp.
Freelance writer Theresa Smith of Mesa, Arizona contributed.
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