Major League Baseball’s 108-page “2021 Operations Manual” serves as a survival guide on how to keep a 30-team, 2,430-game (plus playoffs), 8½-month baseball season up and running during a pandemic.
If nothing else, it’s thorough.
The Swiss Army knife set of restrictions and advice hammered out by the league and players consist of nearly every imaginable do and don’t, can and cannot, and should and shouldn’t. They range from such common-sense reminders as washing hands frequently and wearing a mask to nitty-gritty details on how long to wait in between lavatory visits on a plane or train. (Answer: Several minutes.)
Here’s a partial list of the rules and guidance players, coaches and staff will be following to combat COVID-19:
- No visits to indoor restaurants or dining areas, bars, lounges, clubs, casinos, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, or indoor live performance venues, though visiting a museum is allowed.
- No indoor gatherings of 10 or more people.
- No private sessions with personal trainers, nor visits to gyms, fitness clubs, spas, or pool areas.
- Cannot leave the hotel unless it’s to go to the ballpark, an approved medical reason, an outdoor walk or run, or other permitted low-risk activities (including walking to a restaurant for curbside pick-up or eating at an open-air restaurant within walking distance).
- Team members cannot meet with any guests, whether it’s in their private rooms or elsewhere in the hotel. Meetings with family and household members have to take place just outside the hotel, or in private or semi-private open spaces.
- If a team member tests positive for COVID-19 on the road, they cannot leave their hotel room under any circumstance. Whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, someone with a positive COVID-19 test has to self-isolate for at least 10 days.
- On the road, team members must wear their masks at all times, unless they’re alone in their hotel rooms.
- Players can’t take taxis, buses, subways, or ride-shares (Ubers/Lyfts) to and from the ballpark.
- On a train or plane, conversations are forbidden while eating or drinking. On a bus, no food or drink is allowed, except for brief sips of a beverage.
- Team members can’t switch seats on a plane, where no more than two people will sit in any row, on separate sides of the aisle.
- On a plane, team members should open their air vents in their own direction.
- On a train or plane, a lavatory visitor should wait several minutes before entering the lavatory after it’s used, and toilet lids should be closed before flushing.
- During 5-day mandatory quarantine prior to start of spring training, team and household members can leave the house only for essential activities such as attending school or work, or purchasing groceries/medicine.
- Twice a day, team members will have their temperatures taken and symptoms recorded. At least every other day, team members will take a COVID-19 test.
- Anyone with a 100.4 degree Fahrenheit or higher temperature has to leave the premises and self-isolate.
- Players must wear Kinexon-brand contact tracers on their wrists or face discipline.
- If the tracer determines a team member was in close contact with someone who tested positive, they must enter a 7-day quarantine period whether or not they have symptoms.
- Team members need to wear surgical or N95 masks (except on the field), not gaiters, bandanas, masks with exhalation valves or face shields.
- Players can’t high-five, fist bump, or hug one another.
- Clubs will determine which clubhouse recreational activities are banned or allowed. Ping-pong paddles, billiards cues, foosball tables, playing cards, dominoes, dice, and game controllers, if permitted, will need to be disinfected regularly.
- Showers at the ballpark are discouraged, but if they’re taken, players should wear sandals and should not share shampoo, body wash, or towels. Communal items such as combs, deodorant, cologne, razors, hair gel, mouthwash, and toothpaste are prohibited.
- Communal sports drink and water jugs are not allowed. Large condiment bottles must be replaced by individual packets.
- Leaning on a dugout railing is discouraged, but it’s OK if a clean towel is used as a barrier between human and object.
- Lineup cards will be exchanged pre-game via mobile apps.
- Players should stand at least 6 feet apart during the National Anthem and God Bless America.
- Players must avoid touching their own face, so no pulling off batting gloves with their teeth, wiping away sweat with their hands, licking their fingers, and the like.
- Fighting or instigating fights is prohibited, with violators facing stiff discipline.
- If a virtual meeting is not practical, in-person meetings must take place outdoors, with everyone wearing masks and sitting at a distance from others.
- Any or all of the above protocols might be relaxed during the season if vaccinations are widespread on the team and COVID-19 conditions improve.