Mitch Moreland was 13 hours into his 17-hour drive to Boston when he returned a call the other day.
He was alone, having left his wife and three children behind at home in Alabama. Moreland is prepared to not see them for several months.
“We want to be as safe as possible and that meant they’re going to stay home,” he said. “It’s going to be hard, but hopefully we’ll play the Braves in Atlanta and I’ll get a chance to see them then.”
The 34-year-old Moreland understands why David Price of the Dodgers, Ian Desmond of the Rockies, three members of the Nationals (including Ryan Zimmerman), and Mike Leake of the Diamondbacks opted out the season. But that was never really a consideration for Moreland.
“It wasn’t really complicated for me,” he said. “Baseball is what I love and my family knows that. It’s part of who we are as a family. I will say it was harder to leave them this year after being home these last few months. But it was time for me to get back to playing ball.”
But there will be changes. Moreland will stay in a hotel or rent a small apartment close to Fenway Park instead of finding a place large enough for his family tovisit for a month.
Moreland and his wife, Susannah, decided traveling was not worth the risk.
“With the pandemic picking back up, we want to be as safe as possible and it made sense for them to stay at home,” Moreland said. “They usually come up quite a bit, but obviously this isn’t going to be a normal season.”
There’s a financial component, too. Moreland is on a one-year deal with a team option for 2021. He also will reach 10 years of service time if the season is completed, an accomplishment that greatly increases pension benefits.
But it’s more than that. This is Moreland’s fourth season with the Sox, and he has become one of the team leaders along with providing steady play at first base.
Moreland has a .782 OPS with the Sox and has played Gold Glove-level first base. He was an All-Star in 2018 and has hit .333 with a .945 OPS in 15 postseason games.
“Boston has been great for me,” Moreland said. “I think about my family, but I think about my teammates, too. I want to be around to help them. It’s going to be a tough season with having to spend as little time at the stadium as possible.”
Moreland has read reports about college football players testing positive when they returned to campus and wonders how it will all work for baseball.
“It spreads like wildfire in some places. But you have to trust in the idea that the Red Sox will do everything they can to keep us safe,” he said. “We also have to stay accountable to each other about being as safe as possible.
“We talked about that as a team already on a call [last week], that we have to be smart about the situation and understand the guidelines are in place for a reason. We have to take advantage of what they’ve done for us.”
That will mean wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, and maybe even showering at home after the game. Moreland, who always has a bag of sunflower seeds with him, will have to give those up at the park. No spitting is allowed.
The dynamics of how a team bonds over the course of a season — typically over meals, while traveling, or just kicking back in the clubhouse and talking — will change, too.
From a baseball standpoint, the toughest part will be getting used to the grind. Moreland was able to hit in a cage he set up in his barn and did plenty of workouts. But there’s no replacing being on the field.
“I feel great physically,” he said. “But you need those full days of being in spikes and getting your work in. That’s important. It’ll be nice to get back out there, but we’ll have to be smart about it, too.”
Moreland did a little coaching before he left, working with his 8-year-old son, Crue. His Little League team won a tournament, and Moreland said it was thrilling for him, too.
“Those are some games I’ll never forget, watching him out there,” he said. “That’ll help me get through what’s coming up.
“I’m anxious for us to play and I think it’s the best thing we can be doing. Hopefully we give the fans a little lift and they enjoy it.”
Sox will have decision to make
The Red Sox took 21-year-old infielder Jonathan Arauz from the Astros in the Rule 5 draft in December and were impressed with the athleticism and potential they saw in spring training.
Better than what they expected was how one coach put it at the time.
Arauz is on the summer camp roster, and for the Sox to retain his rights, he must remain on the active roster (meaning not on the injured list) for 50 days. That’s an adjustment from the usual 90 days. At that point, Arauz would become eligible to be optioned to the minors.
But if he spends less than 50 days on the active roster, Arauz would carry those requirements into 2021.
Arauz has not played above Double A. To what degree he could help the Sox this season is unknown. But with expanded rosters, they could perhaps keep him around to add to the talent level in the organization over the long term.
Chaim Bloom has consistently said he believes the Sox can compete for a playoff spot. But it will be interesting to monitor to what degree he prioritizes long-term planning with how he handles roster decisions.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ The Sox lost righthander Noah Song to the Navy. But they took one back in Casey Cobb, who signed as an undrafted free agent this past week.
Cobb planned to enlist in the Navy once his career was over at the University of Alabama. But the 5-foot-10-inch senior decided to give the Sox a shot.
Cobb struck out 49 over 53 innings in two seasons with the Crimson Tide after playing two years in junior college. All but one of his 23 appearances came in relief.
Cobb initially planned to return for a fifth season of eligibility (which was granted to all college players because of the pandemic) but turned pro instead. He has a fastball/slider mix.
▪ Manny Ramirez will be one of the highest-paid Red Sox players this season. He received $2,013,418 on Wednesday, the latest deferred payment from the contract he agreed to before the 2001 season.
Those payments extend through 2026, according to Michael Mayer, the executive editor of the MetsMerized website and the man who tracks such things.
Dustin Pedroia is scheduled to receive $18 million in deferments from 2021–28. Chris Sale will have $50 million coming from 2035–39.
▪ Per MLB rules, all interviews at the ballpark are being held via Zoom or telephone. If that’s a health and safety issue, fine.
But on Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy held a news conference at Fenway while socially distanced from reporters in the same space and answered a series of questions in person.
Hopefully, baseball reporters will eventually be accorded that same opportunity. If it were deemed safe enough for the governor, presumably it would be safe enough for anybody else.
▪ Nick Kuchwara, who joined the Red Sox in 2016, was to be the athletic trainer for Single A Salem this season. But he’ll instead take on one of the more important jobs in the organization.
He has been designated the infection control prevention coordinator, a position every team must fill under new MLB rules.
The ICPC is charged with ensuring compliance of health and safety protocols by the players and staff and developing a system of correcting any mistakes that are made.
Part of the job description is “the ability to create the necessary culture of compliance, be respected, and considered to be approachable by other members of the organization.”
▪ They never got on the field in the first round of spring training. So in case you were wondering, Collin McHugh has No. 46 and Alex Verdugo has No. 99. No Red Sox player has appeared in a game in a number higher than 94. That was righthanded reliever Dalier Hinojosa for one game in 2015.
False step on positives
Baseball will conduct thousands of COVID-19 tests this season, and it’s a certainty players will test positive and miss games while they hopefully recover.
The first round of testing revealed 38 positive tests out of 3,185 samples of players and coaches, 1.2 percent.
There’s nothing wrong with that. More than 2.75 million people in the United States alone have tested positive, including Tom Hanks, Marcus Smart, Sean Payton, and the great John Prine, who sadly died of it.
But at the insistence of the MLB Players Association, baseball will not announce when a player tests positive and lands on the open-ended COVID-19 injured list unless the player specifically approves it.
MLB also plans to reveal only league-wide numbers, not per team.
The COVID-19 injured list does not require a positive test. It could be for symptoms or exposure to the virus. A player could be off the roster for as little as a day or two.
According to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, fans and the media could be left to figure it out based on who’s not on the lineup card unless the player approves releasing the information.
The Players Association says that comes under the usual procedure for non-baseball injuries as covered by privacy laws.
But nothing about the pandemic is usual procedure. At a time when so many people are foolishly resisting the idea of wearing a mask and cases are spiking to previously unprecedented levels nationwide, MLB and the MLBPA could set a great example by being transparent as possible as a reminder of the need to be vigilant.
Anonymous sourcing and speculation about who has tested positive as managers dodge the truth would be a terrible look during an international health crisis. There’s no reason to stigmatize the process.
Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor of the Red Sox allowed their positive tests to be revealed. So did Freddie Freeman (Braves), Tommy Pham (Padres), and Will Smith (Braves).
Hopefully other people around the game will be as forthright.
Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who tested positive then was cleared, took it a step beyond. He went on a Chicago radio station and described painful sleepless nights, shortness of breath, and losing 18 pounds during the month it took him to recover.
Hottovy, who turns 39 this coming week, and pitched for the Red Sox in 2011, felt it was his duty to share what he experienced and make the point that everybody is at risk.
“Too much of what’s out there is the easy stories of what people go through with this,” he said.
Giancarlo Stanton, who played only 18 games for the Yankees last season, is still dealing with the calf strain that kept him out of spring training and is. He has been hitting — and frighteningly struck teammate Masahiro Tanaka with a liner on Saturday — but has yet to be cleared for outfield drills … The Mets included Jed Lowrie on their summer camp roster, a sign they feel he’ll be ready to play. He arrived at spring training wearing an unusually large brace on his left leg and did not get in any games … Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond, who elected not to play this season, is the last player with ties to the Montreal Expos still in the majors. The 34-year-old was Montreal’s third-round pick in the 2004 draft. The franchise became the Washington Nationals in 2005 … Infielder Eric Campbell, who played at Boston College, was added to Oakland’s roster for summer camp. The Norwich, Conn., native was last in the majors in 2016 with the Mets … Marlins CEO Derek Jeter was unusually opinionated about how MLB and the MLBPA handled the negotiations leading up to the season. “It was pretty sad to see the back and forth being played out publicly in a time like now,” Jeter told team broadcaster Glenn Geffner. “You have so many people filing for unemployment throughout the country. Over 30 million people, 40 million people with no jobs. They really don’t want to hear owners and players going back and forth about how much money they deserve and how much money they need. There’s no trust, I should say is the best way to put it.” … Dodgers manager Dave Roberts plans to spread the designated hitter duties among a group of players, Mookie Betts included. Roberts wants to use the spot to give his starters a day off from playing the field from time to time. Over 162 games, that’s the approach several American League teams have taken. But how necessary will that be over 60 games? It will be interesting to see how National League teams handle it. David Ortiz has long contended that being a DH isn’t as easy as people think because you have to find a way to productively use the time between at-bats and there’s added pressure to those at-bats because you don’t contribute defensively. The universal DH helped 35-year-old Matt Kemp land a job. He was signed by the Rockies to a minor league contract … To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues, a “Tip Your Cap” campaign started with assorted ballplayers and celebrities posting a photo or video on social media paying tribute. Four of the five living presidents took part: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. If you ever get the chance to visit, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is terrific … Happy birthday to Rick Lancellotti, who is 64. A Providence native who later lived in New Hampshire and Vermont, Lancellotti bashed 326 home runs in the minor leagues and Japan but only two in the majors over 36 games. Both came in 1986 while he was playing for the San Francisco Giants. Lancellotti signed with the Red Sox in 1989 after being released by the Yankees and appeared in four games in 1990, going 0 for 8. He stayed in the organization until 1991, playing in 338 games for Triple A Pawtucket and hitting 58 home runs. Since 1993, Lancellotti has run a baseball school in Williamsville, N.Y. As you would imagine, he preaches getting the ball in the air.