It’s going to require teamwork, Taylor Rogers emphasized Wednesday, a commitment from every Twins player, if they have any hope of achieving their ambitious and demanding goal during the upcoming 60-game baseball season.
Oh, and if they want to win games, too.
But Rogers, the Twins’ ninth-inning specialist, was talking about the challenge of keeping everyone associated with the team healthy amid a contagious virus that is still spreading at alarming rates, all while playing a game and living in an environment that inevitably elevates the risk.
“A lot of it is going to be on [us], on the honor system. Don’t be the one person that’s going to mess it up for everybody else,” the Twins’ closer and player representative said in a video call with Twins reporters. “When you want to go do something, you need to remember it’s about your team, not just yourself. I truly do believe for our club, we’ll be just fine in that arena. We’re worried about the team and making sure it’s not just one person that’s going to wreck everything.”
Given that members of the Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays and Rockies have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week alone, that directive will be paramount for the next four months, Rogers agreed — but it won’t be easy. Major League Baseball and the players association have agreed upon a 101-page manual for operating during a pandemic, and in addition to the admonitions about avoiding unnecessary contact away from the ballpark, it includes a wide array of changes to a sport that values day-to-day routine.
No spitting. No high-fives. No sharing of equipment, including batting practice baseballs. No getting too close to teammates, opponents and umpires unless absolutely necessary. And no licking your fingers while on the mound, right, Taylor?
“I think it’s impossible. You talk about the habits — I lick my fingers on the mound, and it’s going to be difficult,” Rogers conceded. “It’s going to take time. Nobody’s going to be perfect at it, but with the health and safety protocols we have as a foundation, if we mess up here and there by accident, we’ll be OK. Just as long as it doesn’t happen a lot.”
Catcher Mitch Garver wrote on Instagram (@mgarver), “We have an opportunity to be on the field playing the game we love, but that doesn’t mean the virus is gone. Let’s keep practicing good hygiene and get through this thing together.”
The Twins will begin gathering over the weekend, with some players, like Nelson Cruz, flying in, a few, like Rogers, driving to Minnesota, and some, like Garver, already here. Twins staff members will begin undergoing COVID-19 tests on Thursday, with each player doing the same as he arrives.
These next few days are going to be chaotic and busy, Rogers said — what landlord, he mused, wants to rent an apartment to a tenant who will only be here for four months at most? — but one his teammates are grateful to endure after an unprecedented three-month wait.
“Everybody is in scramble mode, freak-out mode, like that scene from ‘The Office’ where everybody is freaking out. That’s kind of where we’re at,” Rogers said. “The excitement level is off the charts to finally have something going.”
Especially since there were times when he, being privy to the drawn-out negotiations between MLB and the players union as the Twins’ player representative, believed baseball might not happen in 2020.
“There were days I was like, ‘There’s no way this is going to happen.’ Then I had days when I was like, ‘Man, we could get 100 games in.’ It was just a roller-coaster each day,” Rogers said.
“I tried to stay pretty levelheaded talking to teammates and trying not to say, ‘We’re probably not playing this year,’ or vice versa, because I wanted to keep them levelheaded as well.”
Now they have to stay levelheaded about preparation. Rogers believes Twins trainers and coaches did a good job of keeping players motivated to work out during the long layoff.
Even so, he’s not certain three weeks is enough time to get ready for the planned Opening Day.
“I don’t know how the starters [pitchers] are going to get ready or stretched out. And then the hitters … I’m sure it’s going to be difficult for them early. They haven’t seen live pitching in three months,” Rogers said.
“A big thing during all this is, nobody has gotten treatment during this whole time. That’s been difficult, trying to stay ready but also not too ready, to where you’re going to develop an injury of some sort without any kind of treatment. Kind of had to stay at that medium boil. It’s going to be definitely interesting to watch, to see how injuries are going to go.”
And what baseball will be like in the strangest season in history. The Twins were hoping for a breakthrough year, coming off a 101-win 2019, and it won’t take long, Rogers said, to reignite that passion.
“The hardest part for all of us was, we have a heck of a club. The excitement of watching Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson in the same lineup — how excited were all of us in spring training to see that?” Rogers said.
“That was the toughest part during this time, waiting to see [if] finally we can have that happen. It’ll be so much fun. ”