Look around Citi Field: Pete Alonso is taking batting practice in a tank top, Jacob deGrom is throwing routine bullpens in midseason form, Yoenis Cespedes is polishing his timing at the plate. It’s calm waters. The July sun is shining bright in Queens and the Mets have suffered hardly any setbacks halfway through camp.
Rookie manager Luis Rojas is on cruise control with his cool attitude and uncomplicated communication skills. Sure, his veteran All-Star second baseman has missed a week of workouts without an explanation, but the Mets have backup in a productive super-utility defender and additional minor leaguers. COVID-19 tests are, as far as we know, being taken without issues and results are arriving on time. Even baseball-related injuries are so far being prevented.
The Mets are genuinely enjoying a mellow camp without drama — even as the team’s unpopular owners handle New York’s first open-market auction of an MLB franchise in 40 years.
“It feels definitely like it’s gone a lot better than what I projected,” Rojas said of his summer training outlook. “I shared at the beginning that we had a lot of challenges, and I think coming in knowing that we’re going to adopt a routine to get in here and do our baseball activity in camp. And I was really looking forward to seeing how the guys were going to adopt that. I thought they’ve done a tremendous job.
“So it’s gone really well, it’s gone a lot better as far as the guys adopting that routine, getting through the whole process of screening coming in and then getting on the field in both dugouts and keeping the distancing and maintaining that health protocol throughout the day and being able to have fun like they’re having in games.”
Health protocols aside, the Mets are focused on ramping up for the season after a three-plus month layoff that players have compared to the offseason. Rojas is looking for the team to sync as it heads into the final stretch of camp. The Mets are thrilled for new blood when they play the Yankees this weekend in home-and-home exhibition games. They’ll begin lengthening their simulation games and extending starter pitch counts.
“We’ve been really good at adopting the discipline, educating ourselves more and more each day and being able to have fun, but at the same time now we want to add the fundamentals that we’re going to implement in the season,” Rojas said.
Of course, the Mets have lived in their personally-designed bubble for the past 10 days. The hard part — where teams will start traveling across their respective regions, hosting other clubs in their home ballpark and refraining from going out of their hotel rooms in visiting cities — has not yet happened.
“Haven’t even slightly thought about it yet, to be honest with you,” said Marcus Stroman on what he plans to do with his downtime on the road. “But when that presents itself, I’m a recluse. I’m in my house, I don’t have a problem being buried, watching shows, kicking it, relaxing. That’s kind of how I chill anyway.”
Even without the challenges of the impending schedule, multiple teams across the league have experienced the hardships of star players opting out of the season and, in other cases, have been forced to shut down operations due to lags in testing.
The storm, for the Mets, is brewing. That part is not up for discussion. The crucial element is how well-equipped the Mets are in handling the 60-game season’s challenges. The Amazin’s assert their harmonious day-to-day approach is helping players anticipate things like prolonged social-distancing and the flood of regulations designed to keep players from contracting and spreading the virus.
And already, players are beginning to relax on the health protocols. Some are absentmindedly spitting on the field, others are congregating in the dugout with less than six feet of space between them. The loosening up of their behavior is human nature, and it’s fair to wonder if a baseball season can seriously outlast the protocols that are being followed only most of the time.
“I think everyone deep down has concerns,” Stroman said on the season being pulled off. “Obviously there’s a pandemic going on right now, so it’s hard to say that no one’s worried even if they say they’re not. I truly believe that here with the Mets, they’re doing their job, and it truly feels like a safe environment.
“But I truly believe this is a situation you can’t think about three days down the road. You can’t think a week from now. You truly have to live in the moment and take it day to day because there’s so many different factors that come up each day and you kind of just have to process it like that.”
Tackling different dilemmas each day has been a common sentiment around Mets camp. Even veteran players had thought they’d seen it all up until this summer training. The challenges are unique and plenty, but if the Mets can brave the season with minimal hiccups, like they have so far, the reward may be a historic accomplishment.
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