Red Sox president Sam Kennedy hopes to see fans back at Fenway Park at some point this season despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would be a possibility,” Kennedy said on a Zoom call Wednesday evening. “If it were to become a reality it would because of the great work the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston have done. We are hopeful to have fans at some point. We need fans at Fenway Park. Our fans give us a competitive advantage.”
Kennedy added that some teams are anticipating having fans in the stands at some point this season. Massachusetts is currently in Phase 2 of its four-phase reopening.
Kennedy, though, noted that while he sees fans returning this season as a possibility, he didn’t want to get ahead of himself, given that the virus is a moving target.
”I don’t know if we will [have fans],” Kennedy said. “It’s probably a little bit of me, personally, projecting my own hope that fans will be back. I anticipate it being extremely odd when we get going, playing major league baseball games in front of no fans. But if we can [have fans], it’s important we do it in a safe and responsible way.”
Recently, states such as Florida, Arizona, and California have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, California reported more than 7,000 new cases. Is it being responsible for baseball to attempt to return?
“Obviously, we’re going through an incredibly difficult time in our country,” Kennedy said. “The virus has affected so many people and caused so much destruction and death around the world. My feeling is that baseball is exactly the right thing for the country right now to help us get back to some sense of normalcy. We need baseball in this country. It’s the greatest game ever invented. I couldn’t imagine summertime without baseball and, specifically, baseball at Fenway Park.”
Red Sox pitchers and catchers will report to spring training next Wednesday at Fenway Park, and the season will start July 23 or 24. Kennedy added that the Sox are talking with Boston College as a possible additional location for workouts.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who was also on the Zoom call, said he’s been in contact with most of the players regarding the return. Given the limited time players have to get ready for the shortened season after three-plus months off, injuries are a concern.
”This is something that we have seen even when you look at leagues that have come back to play this year in other countries in other sports,” Bloom said. “It’s something that we’ve seen in the past in the history of this game when there have been shorter amounts of time to get ready. Our medical staff and strength and conditioning staff has spent a lot of time on this. It’s part of why they try to be on top of players so much from a distance. [But] there’s only so much you could do remotely.”
Bloom said outfielder Alex Verdugo (stress fracture, back) should be ready to go, while the Sox still don’t have a timeline for pitcher Collin McHugh (flexor tendon strain).
Upon arrival, players and staff members will go through “an intake process,” Kennedy said, “where each individual player and staff will have to go through an isolation period for 48 hours.”
If a player or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they will be quarantined for 14 days. Recently, one player on the 40-man roster tested positive, but he was asymptomatic. In March, a minor leaguer tested positive for the virus, too, but he had no contact with anyone on the major league roster.
The area of Fenway Park where people will be tested won’t be deep into the facility, Bloom said. Instead, it will be a first point of contact. In addition to testing, the team will also have symptom screenings in an attempt to stay ahead of the virus. Bloom said the organization is preparing for the likelihood of positive tests among players and staff members.
Fenway Park will look and feel very different. There will be an additional batting cage in the concourse. There will be an auxiliary bullpen during the season, in addition to an auxiliary dugout. Players will likely have lockers in varied locations in order to keep some distance, Kennedy said, with the Fenway suites a possibility.
Major League Baseball has implemented a 60-man player pool during this 60-game season. Active rosters will be made up of that group. Teams have until Sunday to submit which players will be part of that 60-man pool.
”That’s what we’re working through right now,” Bloom said. “Those details matter and will matter in roster construction. We are learning them in real time and responding as well as we can.”
Bloom is a proponent of added depth, and this could work to the Sox’ advantage in this unusual season. But Bloom noted that it’s a tall task to navigate.
“There’s a lot of different things on the table right now,” he said. “We just don’t know exactly which direction it will go. We want to make sure we are well fortified for this season.”