Tuesday was an away game but with the newly enacted access restrictions, long travel to Clearwater combined with the expectation that Byron Buxton would be facing live pitching for the first time since August of last year, almost all of the Twin Cities media members opted to stay in Fort Myers.
An hour before Buxton’s scheduled live batting practice, the Twins’ director of Communications & Player Relations, Dustin Morse, addressed the media group and informed us that the Twins would be abiding by Major League Baseball’s aforementioned clubhouse restrictions and that, furthermore, the guidelines include everyone outside of essential personnel. This was not just for reporters.
Morse, for lack of a better description, is the team’s gatekeeper. If you need an interview, you go to Morse. If you screw up by posting something online that suggests a pitcher is putting something on a baseball, you will hear from Morse (or so I’ve heard). Morse, a veteran of the organization and well-respected throughout the public relations industry, acknowledged the challenge in trying to accommodate the media’s requests and follow the league’s new distancing.
This was uncharted territory, he said. As writers lobbed hypothetical scenarios at him that involved where the manager would be speaking on the road or how writers could access certain players for one-on-one interviews, you could see the exasperation in his face.
For the time being, Morse said that they would have individual players made available for questions but would require at least three feet of space to separate the player from the writers. Someone made a sneeze guard joke. Buxton, following his on-field live batting practice, was the first interview subject to experience the new distancing guidelines.
This amounted to having the media stand on the dugout steps while Buxton remained standing inside the cover of the dugout. No one measured the actual distance but it felt like we were shouting questions across a canyon.
Later, up in the press box, as the on-field activity wrapped up, writers worked on their articles overlooking a mostly empty stadium. Twitter, always a vital tool of the engaged and informed reporter, was now the main communication hub of the outside world. Writers on Slack apps were messaging other colleagues covering other camps and learning of their happenings.
Reports began to filter into the Twins’ pool of reporters of how the new rules worked in practice. Boston’s media found their access to be a disaster. Phillies media had a similar experience. With the Twins slated to open up their season in Oakland and Seattle, two hot zone markets, editors began to request their writers hold off on their travel plans, for now.
At one point during the day my wife texted me and asked me to order some disinfectant cleaning supplies on Amazon because, back in the Twin Cities, she found empty shelves at Target. Amazon, of course, was out as well, save for the price-gouging third-party vultures that would fortunately soon be quashed from the system. This was still early in the week, before sports were shut down indefinitely.
I turned to Aaron Gleeman and told him of what my wife had discovered. An inside source told him that suppliers were unable to meet the production demands for retailers to keep up with the crush. Later that night I became acutely aware of the empty spaces at the Publix grocery store in Fort Myers where the hardcore cleaning supplies should be -- if you didn’t have those supplies by now, odds were slim you were going to find them any time in the near future.
Tomorrow: Four Days, Day 3 - The Last Spring Training Game