ANAHEIM, CALIF. – Batting practice for the Twins on Saturday afternoon at Angel Stadium looked more like a sunny siesta in a park than a warmup.
Willians Astudillo gathered between first and second base with a couple of other Latino players, masked up and talking. Others lounged on the grass, heads propped on duffel bags. Manager Rocco Baldelli paced between the chit-chatters and sun-tanners, saying a few words to each before circling back to the dugout.
Eventually the grounds crew appeared in a wave, wheeling away the cage and picking up the bags. Around the stadium, workers heard the tinny announcement through their walkie-talkies: "Tonight's game has been postponed."
After two Twins players tested positive for COVID-19 before the game, MLB called off Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Angels, the Twins' first postponement because of COVID-19 issues within the team. And just more than an hour later, Sunday's matinee also went on ice. The club avoided any such trouble in the shortened and delayed 2020 season, but the beginning of 2021 has not been as kind.
"It is tough, but you can control only what you can control," designated hitter Nelson Cruz said before the game. "I speak by myself and my teammates, we all come with the mentality to play. … Hopefully this stops right here, and no more cases come up and we can be able to play the game and be free."
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons first tested positive late Thursday night and had to sit out this California road trip, which began with a 10-3 loss Friday. Baldelli and another staff member went through a false positive scare that nearly took the manager from the West Coast as well. And ahead of Friday's game, another positive test among a staff member sent a handful of other staff into contact-tracing quarantine in the team hotel. Sources have said contact-tracing has not determined any strong overlap from Simmons' case to those in California so far.
Pregame Saturday, Baldelli said there had been another potential positive test, this time affecting his lineup. He verbally gave out his batting order without positions from a piece of scrap paper. Most conspicuous was left fielder Kyle Garlick's absence and Brent Rooker's inclusion when Rooker had previously been on the 10-day injured list. Baldelli later confirmed Garlick had tested positive and said those who have tested positive have displayed only mild symptoms.
MLB said it was necessary to call off the games for "continued testing and contact tracing involving members of the Twins organization." The league has not released details yet of how the games will be made up or whether the three-game series starting Monday in Oakland is also in jeopardy.
Traveling does present an interesting component, as the Twins not only have a short commuter charter up to Oakland potentially as soon as Sunday but also a four-hour ride back to Minnesota later in the week. And it seems possible some of the spread could have happened during travel. For those who have tested positive or are in contact-tracing quarantine since arriving in California, this could be home for the foreseeable future.
"Anyone that does test positive for COVID will remain in the hotel at the current location," Baldelli said. "Is there the option for that person to drive back to a home city? I'm not sure if that's allowed or not. … The clearest option is just to remain in place and wait it out."
Baldelli estimated that about 80% of the Twins' traveling contingent has been vaccinated, most receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 8, including Garlick. But it takes about two weeks from administration for the shot to take full effect. The Angels, meanwhile, have already reached the 85% threshold that allows for loosened COVID-19 protocols.
Several teams have had postponed games or series because of COVID-19 issues since last season. Around 7:15 p.m. Central time Saturday, a slow trickle of backpack-laden players started the slow walk toward the two idling coaches in the tunnel to return to the hotel.
"We don't want it to continue to snowball," Baldelli said. "… I also think that not panicking and creating undue stress on top of all the stress that guys are already feeling is very important. Is there an ideal way to handle something like this? Probably not. I think we all just do what we think is best, and we try to put people at ease every way we can.
"While also acknowledging it's a serious situation."