(CBSNewYork/CBS Local) — Spring Training rolls on in Florida and Arizona, with the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues distracting the country from the growing effects of the coronavirus. Opening Day is now just over two weeks away, and all 30 teams are scheduled to play. MLB has no current plans to cancel or delay any of the action. As news unfolds and coronavirus concerns grow, that may change.
In the meantime, teams are taking precautions. MLB passed down a list of suggestions for dealing with the emerging outbreak. And teams like the Philadelphia Phillies are getting creative.
Texas Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun endured a scary moment early in Sunday’s matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The left-handed batter took a fastball to the face that left him with a broken jaw and probably an extensive recovery.
Superstar outfielder Christian Yelich likely enjoyed his weekend more than Calhoun after signing a long-term extension with the Milwaukee Brewers. His $215 million deal, which runs through his age-37 season, virtually ensures he’ll remain a Brewer for life.
This week’s Spring Training Report looks at MLB’s coronavirus precautions, Calhoun’s broken jaw and Yelich’s new contract.
Sooner or later, MLB may need to formalize a policy to deal with coronavirus. It doesn’t believe those days are here yet. Still, commissioner Rob Manfred has created an “internal task force” to work through possible “complications” in the weeks and months ahead.
The League has no current plans to cancel or delay Spring Training or regular season games in light of concerns. But MLB is asking players and teams to take precautions given ongoing news of coronavirus’s spread. Per a recent memo to all 30 teams, it’s asking that:
- Players avoid taking balls and pens directly from fans to sign autographs — a suggestion that will be fleshed out in training materials the league intends to send to teams — and opt against handshakes.
- Teams open lines of communication with the local public-health authority.
- Front offices consult a local infectious-disease specialist who can serve as a conduit to health officials.
- Medical personnel ensure all players have received the 2019-20 flu vaccine and are up to date on other vaccinations.
Additional precautions include limiting access for media members who have visited high-risk areas like China, Iran, Italy and South Korea in the last two weeks.
Other sports leagues and organizations have also instituted precautions. The National Hockey League was the first to temporarily close dressing rooms to the media entirely. Johns Hopkins University recently hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament without fans. In other countries, sporting events have been rescheduled, postponed or canceled due to coronavirus fears.
Late Monday (after this post was first published), NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS issued a joint statement that read, in part, “Given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting.”
Meanwhile, Spring Training continues as planned in Florida, where two people have died from the disease, and in Arizona, where multiple cases have been confirmed. In addition to fist-bumps replacing high-fives, look for other small changes that may improve player and fan safety.
If teams adhere to guidelines, autograph sessions will necessarily take on a different tone. The Philadelphia Phillies, for one, are having players pre-sign a limited number of baseballs and photo cards before games. Security personnel then assist players in distributing the souvenirs.
Willie Calhoun’s Scary Moment
Texas Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun just had what likely qualifies as the worst at-bat of his career. The left-handed batter was hit in face by a 95-mph Julio Urias fastball in the first inning of his team’s Cactus League game with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Spring Training matchup stopped for 10 minutes as coaches and medical staff attended to the obviously hurt Calhoun. He couldn’t talk, though he eventually walked to a medical cart, which carried him off the field. He later went to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, where a CT scan revealed a broken jaw from the pitch.
Calhoun had surgery Monday, during which a plate was inserted to stabilize his jaw. It was unclear at that time whether he also had a concussion. Calhoun will be reevaluated in two weeks, and it’s likely he will be out for the foreseeable future.
If there’s any upside to this horrific injury, it could be to further increase usage of the still-optional C-Flap helmet extension. The attachment, already worn by notable hitters like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, protects a player’s cheek and jaw. During that fateful at-bat, Calhoun was not wearing the C-Flap, which might have prevented the injury.
Calhoun was drafted by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. In 2017, Calhoun, then a top prospect, was sent to the Rangers as part of the Yu Darvish deal. He hit .269 last season in 309 at-bats over 83 games for the Rangers, with 21 home runs and 48 RBI. The young outfielder looked poised for an increased role this season.
Christian Yelich’s Contract
It looks like the Brewers best outfielder Christian Yelich will play out his career with the team. The 2018 NL MVP and Milwaukee agreed to a new nine-year, $215 million deal, which basically extends his current deal by seven years.
Yelich’s base salary will increase to $26 million for the 2022 season. And the contract includes a full no-trade clause without any team opt-outs, generally uncommon and effective immediately.
The timing and circumstances of the Yelich deal are also a little unusual. He was still three years away from free agency when he approached the team about an extension, and might have been in line for an even bigger payday. But Yelich likes playing in Milwaukee, and Brewers fans love him. Also interesting is that a small-market team locked up one of MLB’s premier talents long-term.
Yelich hit .326 over 576 at-bats in his MVP season, with 36 home runs and 136 RBI. He hit .329 last season in his 489 at-bats, with 44 home runs and 97 RBI, and was pacing for another MVP-caliber season when he broke his right kneecap.