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TRAVELOGUE

Red Sox spring training diary: Inching toward Opening Day ... and toward normal

Having fans back in the stands is a welcome sight after last year's quiet slog.
Having fans back in the stands is a welcome sight after last year's quiet slog.John Bazemore

While covering Red Sox spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., for the Globe, beat writer Peter Abraham will offer occasional dispatches on what life is like.

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Monday, March 29

What it’s been like reporting on the Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. — As spring training winds down, it’s starting to feel like a somewhat normal baseball season.

Even with the pandemic protocols in place, covering games with fans in the stands has been uplifting. Good plays get a loud cheer, kids are eating popcorn, and there are lines at the beer stand.

Watching games in empty ballparks last season felt like a chore that was best to get over with as quickly and safely as possible. But now we’re inching toward normal.

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Autographs are still off-limits, as the players know it’s against the rules to get too close to fans. But several players have taken to flipping balls into the crowd more often than they used to.

J.D. Martinez did it Wednesday from the on-deck circle, and what looked to be a 12-year-old boy high-fived the people around him.

(You’re probably not supposed to high-five strangers, right? But it’s Florida.)

Reporting on the Sox has been a lot better than expected. I’ve so far had seven in-person interviews set up by Sox media relations chief Kevin Gregg and quite a few more informal encounters around the practice fields.

We also get at least three or four Zoom sessions a day. I’m never sure what the etiquette is when you’re done. Just sign off or wave goodbye? Zoom has been a savior more than a year now. But hopefully we’ll be done with it once everybody gets vaccinated.

There’s no chance the players miss having the media around. But I do get the idea that they understand it’s not good for the game if there is less coverage of it.

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Chaim Bloom, Alex Cora, and the other executives and coaches have been cooperative, too.

I also set a personal record by hitting four 3-pointers in a row Thursday morning. The hotel where I’m staying has a basketball hoop outside, and it has been fun to shoot around every few days.

My first jumper a few weeks ago was a pathetic airball, but I’ve managed to improve my percentage from awful to occasionally acceptable.

This rubber duck, a gift from a parking attendant in Fort Myers, will make the trip back to New England with reporter Peter Abraham.
This rubber duck, a gift from a parking attendant in Fort Myers, will make the trip back to New England with reporter Peter Abraham.Peter Abraham/Globe Staff

I also have a pet duck.

It’s a little yellow rubber duck a parking lot attendant gave me at a Braves game a few weeks ago. It has something to do with Jeeps that started in Canada, and my rental here is a Cherokee.

The duck and I have covered 450 or so miles going to games. I have a Grand Cherokee back home, so the duck is coming back with me. I think she wants to see how the season plays out.


Tuesday, March 9

Things aren’t the same as back home

FORT MYERS, Fla. — According to the Centers for Disease Control website, the level of community transmission for COVID-19 here in Lee County is high.

According to my 18 days spent living in Lee County, to cover spring training, the level of community concern about that is low.

Major League Baseball’s protocols require that everyone at the JetBlue Park wear a mask and practice social distancing. The Red Sox take it seriously, too.

A few days ago, Martín Pérez finished a defensive drill and sat down on the grass next to two teammates. Alex Cora, watching from a distance, yelled for them to move apart and put on masks.

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The team athletic trainers and other staffers walk around with a supply of masks and liberally hand them out.

But leaving the ballpark is like going to another place, one where the virus doesn’t exist.

A few stores — Target and CVS among them, thankfully — mandate mask use. Other simply encourage it, or don’t care.

I stopped at a convenience store the other day to pick up something to drink. There were 12 others inside. Besides the two cashiers, I was the only one wearing a mask.

Every restaurant you pass is packed and traffic is the same as always. Nothing has changed. Locals say it’s been like this for months.

My plan has been to stick to the ballpark and hotel outside of once-a-week trips to the grocery store.

The ballpark feels safe. Ian Browne of MLB.com and Jonny Miller from WBZ Radio were the only other reporters here for the first few weeks and we sit far apart in the press box.

When the Sox played the Braves in North Port on Sunday, Ian and I were alone in the main section of the press box outside of the scoreboard operator.

It’s such a different feeling than back home in Massachusetts, where mostly everybody has been vigilant.

Teams are allowed to have 24 percent capacity at spring training games and masks are required. It’s comical — although not really — to watch people take their seats and immediately take their masks off before an usher comes over to remind them to put it back on. Then they take them back off.

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Ushers at JetBlue Park spend a lot of time telling fans to keep their masks on.
Ushers at JetBlue Park spend a lot of time telling fans to keep their masks on.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

The ushers at JetBlue have signs that say “Please Mask” they wave at folks. Those were a waste of money.

Lee County has one of the highest COVID rates in Florida and it’ll be a small miracle if the Red Sox escape unscathed before the season starts.

The rates are dropping everywhere, Florida included. But after being here a while, you can’t help but wonder how much better it could have been.


Monday, March 1

There’s nothing like a face-to-face interview

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Interviewing Red Sox outfield prospect Jarren Duran felt like a professional milestone last week.

We met up at the Green Monster seats at JetBlue Park, sat about 8 feet apart and spoke for 10 minutes while wearing masks.

It was my first in-person interview in 350 days. I’ve since talked to Bobby Dalbec and Nick Pivetta, with more to come.

Like most everybody else, baseball writers have found different ways to do our jobs during the pandemic. Last season, teams set up daily video conferences for us to talk to managers and players, with occasional phone calls for feature stories or columns.

Chaim Bloom (right) and Peter Abraham keep their distance during an interview on Feb. 26 between the practice fields at the JetBlue Park complex.
Chaim Bloom (right) and Peter Abraham keep their distance during an interview on Feb. 26 between the practice fields at the JetBlue Park complex.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

I’ve also communicated with players and executives via text message or through Twitter and Instagram messages.

There’s always a way. But nothing is better than being able to talk to somebody in person. You almost always get better answers, and it’s easier for the conversation to flow.

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Group video interviews serve their purpose. But the answers are often stilted, and it’s tough getting more than one question.

There has been only a small group of media at Fenway South, and the Red Sox have allowed us to watch workouts from behind the backstop. The clubhouse remains off-limits but hopefully that will change over time once everybody is vaccinated.

It has been productive getting to watch the new players on the team and getting a sense of how they’ll fit in. You can already see how Marwin González will be a team leader and that Kiké Hernández will be important to the mix.

It also has been good to talk face-to-face — or mask-to-mask — with Chaim Bloom, Brian O’Halloran, and some of the other executives.

The Red Sox seem to have good energy, a product of Alex Cora being back and all the new faces.

Last season felt like something the Sox just wanted to get over with. There’s more ambition with this group, and having more access this season will allow us to tell that story better.


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