MLB players might wear masks during games when the season starts

As Cody Bellinger waited out Major League Baseball’s coronavirus-driven shutdown in his native Arizona, he saw the evolution of facial coverings firsthand.

Arizona moved quickly through its reopening phases, complete with images of packed bars and patios over Memorial Day weekend, and then three weeks later, as cases predictably spiked, saw mandatory mask orders passed by both Phoenix and Maricopa County.

So when the reigning National League MVP arrived in long-masked Los Angeles for the Dodgers’ camp workouts, he was prepared — for almost anything.

“It’s not even a hassle for me,” Bellinger said this past week. “Sometimes I forget it when I’m leaving and gotta walk back upstairs and get it. I don’t think it’s a hassle to wear a mask. If your breath stinks, it sucks.

“But it just means you brush your teeth a little more.”

Baseball has avoided the politically charged battles over face coverings that have played out in the aisles of big-box stores and bistros alike; in fact, MLB’s protocols require them in almost every non-playing setting.

Yet the adherence to the mask has gone a step further than even baseball executives and infectious-disease specialists might have imagined.

Yes, we may even see them within the white lines of the playing fields if MLB succeeds in staging this season.

The second full week of “summer camp” workouts brought even more mask-wearing during workouts, a feat that Bellinger acknowledged makes it “definitely harder to breathe.”

But it also saw multiple players signal they may in fact wear masks during a game.

Most notably, Texas Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos said on a Zoom media call that due to his position and its proximity to others and his concern for family members.

“I’m trying to see if I can do it in the game because I’m close to the guys hitting, close to the umpire and it’s going to be a challenge for us in that area to keep distance or to keep from talking between each other,” he said. “I’m the guy who’s asking the umpires questions during the game, the batters always say hello to me; I say hello back. So that’s something I need to figure out: how I’m going to deal with this.”

Indeed, proximity — or lack thereof — may significantly frame on-field habits in a 2020 season. Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel donned a mask every time a runner reached first base during an intrasquad game this past week. Friday, Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager took an intrasquad game at-bat wearing a mask.

Before opting out of the 2020 season after adopting prematurely born twins, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey cited the “inherent risks” that come with catching.

“I don’t know what you would do from the catcher’s standpoint other than wear a mask while you’re catching,” he said, “and I’m not sure how realistic that is.”

His teammate, outfielder Hunter Pence, donned a mask during a Friday Zoom call and noted he will keep it on every last moment possible — even if doing so on the field proves too challenging.

“When I’m playing and hitting or doing exertion, I’m not going to be wearing a mask, just because you need oxygen. And it’s very, very difficult,” says Pence. “I’ll be wearing the mask as often as I can, everywhere I can when I’m not playing. I’m going as extreme as I can because I realize the opportunity to have it depends on all of us doing the right things, and I want to be a message of what I think is right.

“I just feel like we owe it to each other to give ourselves the best chance to stay healthy as baseball, as a country, and it’s just how I feel. It’s not easy for me, but if I can do this to help stop it and potentially have a season, I’m going to do everything I can even though it’s an inconvenience.”

Were a pandemic season commencing in April, players could almost employ the mask as part of their standard early-season, warm-weather garb. Alas, the season will play out mostly through the teeth of summer, which may deter many potential wearers.

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Not Chirinos, though. He will keep his on as long as possible and, at the least, will play his home games in the Rangers’ new, climate-controlled stadium.

“I’m wearing that mask to hopefully try to do my part,” he said. “I hope the umpires wear something when they’re behind me, and I hope they’re not getting too close.

“I know on our side, we’re doing that. Hopefully, the umpires are doing the same thing on their side and we’re going to be able to keep that area safe for everybody.”

TORONTO STAR