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On Baseball

Friendly Fenway feels different, but baseball is back in Boston

Pitchers stretched during spring training in Fenway Park.
Pitchers stretched during spring training in Fenway Park.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Ron Roenicke has been in professional baseball for 43 years ago as a player, coach, and now manager of the Red Sox. He thought he had experienced all the game had to offer.

But he wasn’t ready for this week and the jumble of regulations involved in putting his team back on the field during a pandemic.

“This is the craziest time and the busiest time I’ve ever had in baseball,” Roenicke said Friday as the Sox gathered to prepare for a season none of them can be sure will actually happen.

“I’ve never made so many phone calls. I’ve never made so many text messages in a day, every single day. It’s been really crazy.”

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The Sox hoped to have 48 players at Fenway Park for their first time together as a team since March 12, but multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 and weren’t in attendance. How many, Major League Baseball didn’t allow the Red Sox to say.

Lefthanded pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez remained at home in Florida waiting for the result of his test after being around a person who had symptoms typical for COVID-19. Some others had yet to arrive in Boston, or were similarly waiting for results.

MLB reported that 31 players and seven staff members league wide tested positive, 1.2 percent of the 3,185 samples collected. Nineteen of the 30 teams had at least one positive test.

The Red Sox players who were at Fenway Park weren’t permitted in the clubhouse. To promote social distancing, the suites on the third level of the ballpark were converted into two-man locker rooms.

Infielder Michael Chavis was so impressed when he first walked into the suite he’ll share with new right fielder Alex Verdugo that he backed out and took out his phone to record a video of the experience.

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Chavis embraced the experience, strange as it was at first.

“Just having a conversation with somebody that hasn’t been in my house the last three months, it’s incredible,” he said.

The Sox also installed a batting cage in the first-base concourse and moved the equipment from the weight room to the same area because medical experts feel an open-air environment lessens the chances of transmitting the virus.

“I know you can do everything right and still get this virus,” Roenicke said. “But I know also that if you’re doing things right, your percentages go way down.”

Still, all the precautions left Fenway feeling oddly cold and unwelcome. There were several white tents set up as testing centers and new signs posted on nearly every pillar or wall, even in the dugouts, reminding you to wear a mask, wash your hands, and maintain social distance.

“Be well,” said another sign. As though it were that easy.

Handshakes and hugs are forbidden, but there was baseball on the field for the first time since September, and those moments allowed you to believe that maybe a season can come together.

“I know you can’t really see the smiles on us, because we’ve got our masks on,” said Roenicke, who spoke via a Zoom call to reporters just a few floors away in the press box.

New face Alex Verdugo heads to the field on Friday.
New face Alex Verdugo heads to the field on Friday.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Martin Perez and Ryan Weber threw in the bullpen. Other pitchers went through defensive drills, and there were several rounds of batting practice.

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Verdugo, one of the players acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Mookie Betts in February, showed a compact, powerful swing that sprayed line drives around the field. He was still recovering from back surgery when spring training came to a sudden halt, but is ready to go now.

The Sox plan to work out every day until the season starts, on either July 23 or 24. If the pitching staff exceeds what are low expectations, they could even contend for a playoff spot.

However it works out, Roenicke believes baseball is doing the right thing by trying to have a 60-game season.

“Just seeing the faces of the guys as they walked on the field today made it pretty nice,” he said. “They were excited to be back in baseball again. Being back on the field made everybody feel good.”



Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.