By 8:30 Tuesday morning at George M. Steinbrenner Field, some 75 years of tradition had been replaced by a high-top table, four stanchions and a Yankees banner (with sponsor) placed against a concrete wall.
For now, this — or something similar to this, across Major League Baseball — constitutes the new reality for media covering the sport.
“Well, it’s unfortunate just for the world situation of it. But [they’re] the precautions we’ve got to take now,” Giancarlo Stanton said during the Yankees’ 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays. “[We’ll] make it a point to come out here and be available since you guys aren’t allowed in the clubhouse.”
On Monday evening, MLB, the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer put out a joint statement announcing the temporary banning of media as well as non-essential team and facility personnel from team clubhouses and locker rooms. The continuing, worrisome spread of the coronavirus created this unprecedented development, with the situation’s uncertainty creating no timeline for resumption of the old ways.
The news especially stung the baseball-media universe, given the sport’s everyday nature and its history of considerable access that afforded reporters the time to build deep relationships with their coverage subjects.
“From the players’ standpoint, for the guys in there, we’re used to having the media in there, and today was a little different obviously with you guys not allowed in there,” said Yankees reliever Zack Britton, the team’s player representative. “But as we go along, I think we’ll adjust to it.”
At Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Robinson Cano said, “It is real strange. When we walk in, you guys are always there. It feels like the playoffs. In the playoffs, you guys are not in there.”
On Tuesday morning, when reporters normally would interact with players as they get ready for their pregame workout, manager Aaron Boone and injured outfielder Aaron Judge both departed the clubhouse to greet the phalanx of media situated outside, a pair of goodwill gestures. Many media members stood near the dugouts during that workout, and some Yankees and Blue Jays (who did their pregame work here after the Yankees finished) were amenable to informal chats.
While the Mets hit at Clover Field, team officials informed the media that they wouldn’t be allowed in the dugouts. At the Mets’ game against the Astros in West Palm Beach, requested players and manager Luis Rojas spoke outside the small visitors’ clubhouse, typical for spring-training road contests. The interview subjects spoke slightly farther from reporters, if not quite the recommended 6-8 feet, from the media.
Back at Steinbrenner Field, meanwhile, Boone conducted his normal postgame news conference at the newly constructed area, standing behind the table so that he was about 7 feet from his inquisitors. Gerrit Cole, who started the game, did a group scrum, as is standard. Less standard, the Yankees asked the YES Network to film and participate in the group session with Cole rather than conduct a separate, exclusive conversation.
Yankees and Mets media-relations officials vowed to work with reporters to facilitate interviews with desired players and other personnel, and pleaded for patience. And in the interest of fairness, teams have been asked by MLB to define “essential” narrowly. Scouts and analysts were among those asked to stay out.
What comes next, no one knows for sure.
“This is a strange time right now,” Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo said. “Hopefully things will get under control soon and we can put this to bed.”
— with Mike Vaccaro