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More coronavirus answers coming in next 72 hours for Blue Jays, Shapiro says

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Ahead of memos from the union and Major League Baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays were trying to figure out what the next steps would be concerning the coronavirus pandemic just like everyone else.

Jays president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro addressed a small media gathering here on Friday morning and said that there were few answers presently, but many things were expected to be worked out by Monday.

“I can tell you that as we think about planning, we’re thinking about digestible periods of time,” Shapiro said outside of the team’s newly renovated spring training home.

“The next 72 hours is really what we’re communicating right now and all I’m here to communicate about, and that is to get more clarity as the commissioner and the (Major League Baseball Players Association) meet, and understand and navigate the implications on our business moving forward. We’re just trying to do the best we can to educate and support our players and our staff, as well as provide a safe environment,” he said.

“We already did that for our fans by not playing. Now we’re doing that for our staff and players. We are obviously giving some thought to the longer term, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, because I just don’t have clarity about what the long-term represents.”

MLB announced Thursday that the rest of spring training would be cancelled and opening day would be pushed back by at least two weeks due to this unprecedented situation. The Blue Jays gathered at the facility on Friday, those choosing to stay were slated to have Saturday off and an optional day of work on Sunday and would hold a meeting with the players on Monday.

“If there’s any player that has concerns over family, that thinks that being here is not the right place to be, we’re supportive of them leaving and being with their family,” Shapiro had said earlier.

A union memo released later Friday confirmed players could stay at spring training (with access to club’s training facilities remaining available), go to their team’s home city or to their off-season home.

“We were cognizant coming in that we have international players that are coming from areas that have already been impacted. That’s just a window into how everyone here’s going to be impacted as well, so being supportive is what we’re trying to do,” Shapiro had said.

“Communicating is the second piece. But we do consider our players and staff to be a large family, so we’re doing the best we can just to maintain the level of communication and the understanding and the level of support as best as we possibly can through uncertainty. And this is a lot of uncertainty.”

No kidding. Though at least the situation as a whole is slightly easier to deal with than that of other leagues which were already in-season and/or nearing the playoffs.

Canadian Blue Jays pitcher Jordan Romano agreed on Thursday that is a marginal silver lining.

“Yeah, especially NBA they only had, I don’t know, 20 games left or something like that so it’s probably a little worse to stop it like that but I mean stoppage at any point’s not good,” Romano said. “But maybe a little bit better for us.”

Shapiro said the players have not been tested for COVID-19, but “we walked through a series of protocols for anyone that does present with any symptoms, whatsoever.

Shapiro referenced starter Tanner Roark as being the best example of this. Roark was diagnosed with regular strain 1 of the flu virus.

INFO BEING GATHERED

While nobody wants to panic, the Jays want everyone to take this situation seriously, as they should.

“One of the things we left them with this morning, and I think this is probably most important and the only way to really make it less abstract and more real is to think of their mothers, think about their fathers, think about their grandparents, think about kids that have compromised immune systems,” Shapiro said.

“And there’s an obligation that when they feel symptoms, regardless of a dry cough or a sore throat, that they communicate immediately with Jose and our training staff and our medical staff and that we walk down the protocol. Once you get down to a certain point, testing becomes an option, but there’s obviously a scarcity of tests now so there’s no quick testing going on. We’re just a segment of the population. We have not gotten to that point with any of our players.”

Shapiro said he didn’t want to speak for the players in terms of their current moods (no players were made available to the media as per current MLB rules in consultation with the PA) but described it as a gradual shift as they continue to gather information about the virus.

“I think as they start to shift and think about I don’t want to be the person that’s responsible for my teammate’s grandmother getting sick, my teammate’s father getting sick, child, you know there is a greater understanding of what we’re facing, it makes it a little less abstract,” he said.

“We obviously sit here and it’s like the eye of the hurricane’s looming in the distance but hasn’t actually hit here yet so it’s hard for them as young people to think about anything — what it means to them today or tomorrow. But I think that the stakes are real and more clear to them now, partially just because of the extreme nature of we’re postponing the season and hopefully we were able to talk those things through this morning and give some more background and reasons for that.”

NO GAMES = NO FUN

Though the health of everyone impacted by coronavirus is obviously all that matters, Shapiro spoke for sports fans everywhere when discussing his human reaction to the sporting world being put on hold.

“Yesterday afternoon, kind of a surreal moment for me — the game against the Junior National Team ended, Charlie (Montoyo, Toronto’s manager), Ross (Atkins, the general manager) and I were in Charlie’s office watching our game in Bradenton and as it’s been most of this spring, it was fun watching our guys play,” he said.

“And I had a moment where, selfishly, I was pretty sad. I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, like there are great things happening, I want to continue to watch these guys play and I love baseball.’ That’s why I’m doing this. I love the game of baseball and I don’t want to stop watching the game. Caught myself about 30 seconds into that, thinking about the broader challenges that we’re facing as a society and the demands that leadership have, and our role in that, as an industry, as a team, and as individuals and immediately shifted back to what we need to do,” Shapiro said.

And that led into the meeting with the players and coaches where management did its best to be supportive, communicative “and to help them understand the gravity of what we’re facing. And the importance of our roles as leaders and ensuring we do the best we can to help and not hurt the dilemma that we’re facing as a society and as a community. And most importantly, that obviously is not fostering crowds, not fostering mass gatherings,” he said.

“So the easiest thing we can do is understand and support that we’re not playing baseball in front of our fans.

“The concerns that we have are far greater than the Blue Jays, they’re more focussed on our community and broader mankind, as we’re all kind of dealing with the uncertainty that lies ahead and doing the best we can to navigate through this challenge.”

AROUND THE BASES

Shapiro says Blue Jays staff — in Toronto, in Florida or scouting around the world — are being pushed to work from home and not in large areas … While some athletes (like the NBA’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Love) and owners (Ilitch Holding in Detroit and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Toronto) have said they will be putting up $100,000-$1 million to help cover the wages of part-time event staffers impacted by the postponements, Shapiro said nothing has been firmed up yet on that front by the Blue Jays. Dunedin will be significantly impacted financially by losing over a week of spring training revenues. “As we start to get to the things that come after Monday, and secondary and tertiary issues, their welfare is certainly one of the things that we’re dealing with but as of right now we’re dealing with the immediacy of how do we manage through the next 72 hours,” Shapiro said … The team was also not presently concerned with any potential border issues looming (such as closures). “I think we’re very aware that we’re a Canadian club and beyond the pride of that we haven’t felt that that’s an issue we need to deal with right now,” he said.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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