After nearly four months of writing about baseball from home, it was a relief when the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park two weeks ago and allowed the media to watch their workouts.
There aren’t many of us on most days, five or six reporters plus a few photographers and videographers working from a spot in the stands.
We’re restricted to the press box level, the fifth floor at Fenway. Basically every other seat has been removed and we’re a good distance away from each other. The windows are wide open — no matter the weather — to promote good air circulation.
There are a few spots on the third base side where you can sit outside at tables usually reserved for fans. It’s a good vantage point.
The Red Sox put together a comprehensive plan for using Fenway and they’ve looked out for us. It’s hard to say any public space feels completely safe these days, but they’re doing all they can.
Getting into the park requires two temperature checks each day and filling out a 21-question survey about any symptoms you may feel, if you have been around anyone with COVID-19, or traveled beyond New England, New York, or New Jersey in the previous two weeks.
We also had to sign a waiver at the beginning, which drove home the point about the risks involved.
Instead of using our usual press credentials, there’s a daily pass signifying that we’re a Tier 3 worker. That essentially means we can get in the park but not anywhere close to the players and coaches. They’re in Tier 1.
The press box at Fenway is one of the highest in the majors, but it’s close enough to get a sense of how the ball is moving for a pitcher or how well Xander Bogaerts is working with new second baseman Jose Peraza.
In that sense, there’s something to be gained by showing up beyond just being able to watch baseball again.
But what’s lost, and understandably so given the needed precautions, is being able to have a detailed conversation with Bogaerts about that process. Or to observe it from field level, then ask one of the coaches what he thinks.
You learn the most about the team you cover in the hours leading up to the first pitch. In normal times, you can walk into Fenway at 2 p.m. and make your way down to the dugout to watch the early work on the field.
There are almost always a few coaches and players around and plenty of opportunities to just talk about baseball. Sometimes it’s on the record but many times it’s just an informal conversation and learning something that will eventually lead to a story or a notebook item.
That is essentially why we go to the games. In an age where you can follow a pitcher’s velocity on your phone, there’s value in finding different paths and adding insight that goes beyond the final score.
Any particularly enjoyable feature story or column you’ve read about baseball was almost certainly a product of a pre-game conversation, if not a series of them.
Postgame interviews are quick and dirty. What happened? Pre-game conversations are about the how and why.
For now, those have disappeared outside of text messages and an occasional phone call.
Since the pandemic hit, most of our access has come via Zoom, the now ubiquitous video conferencing platform.
The Sox have made one or two players and manager Ron Roenicke available each day, with the interviews done as a group. The players speak to us from a camera in the interview room above the clubhouse, three floors down from the press box.
Roenicke has a setup in his office to connect with us.
There is always a team official in the room with the players and others are on their laptops monitoring the session. The answers are all pretty standard as a result.
For a guy who has had a world of hurt dumped in his lap since February, Roenicke has been determinedly cheerful throughout. He has been in baseball since the 1970s and understands that reporters serve as a conduit to the fans. He’s on our side in this, thankfully. The Sox are even being forthcoming about their COVID cases.
The player interviews are more like hostage videos at this point. Hopefully that’ll change over time. But trying to collect some comments via Zoom after an 11-2 loss is sure to be awkward.
But for now it works. Everybody is finding a way.
For many of us, the fear is the Major League Baseball Players Association will cite the changes made this season as evidence that the media can be banned from the clubhouse permanently and still cover the sport.
The collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season and media access will be a topic, although it should be a minor one given the many larger issues that divide the sides.
Many players feel they can tell their own stories by using social media platforms. Some just don’t care to tell their stories at all, or need to be convinced.
It would be foolish for baseball to make the players less accessible given how even many star players have low national profiles.
That’s for down the road. For now, the goal is to get through this healthy. This will be a baseball season unlike any that came before it and that’s a great story to tell.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.