Blue Jays Shapiro says players, staff have not needed testing for COVID-19

The Canadian Press

Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro says none of the team's players or staff have had symptoms that warranted being tested for COVID-19.

Shapiro spoke to media Sunday afternoon on a conference call from his Toronto home, four days after leaving the Blue Jays' spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla., with other members of the team's staff.

Major League Baseball announced March 12 that it was cancelling the rest of spring training and postponing the start of the season by at least two weeks. That postponement was extended to eight weeks shortly after, as the new coronavirus continues to spread.

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"The testing situation is one where we kind of just mirror the broader society," Shapiro said. "I think we all wish there could be broader access to testing, for the Blue Jays and for everyone. Right now we're working through protocol.

"We have not had anyone reach a point on the player personnel or staff side where their symptoms warranted testing. So at this moment, no Blue Jay staff or player, major or minor league, have been tested."

Shapiro said most of Toronto's major league players had made their way back to their respective homes by March 15.

While the Blue Jays' spring facility essentially closed last week, a trio of pitchers — Hyun-jin Ryu of South Korea, Shun Yamaguchi of Japan and Rafael Dolis of the Dominican Republic — are still there.

"From a front-office perspective we became increasingly less comfortable asking staff to support and be in an environment that was becoming clearer it was not safe," Shapiro said of the decision to shut down the facility, noting that too many people were congregating in close spaces.

"We do however remain open to just three players who don't have any place else as to go for a variety of reasons. Obviously there are immigration laws and other circumstances," he said.

"(In) Ryu's situation, his wife in seven months pregnant as well, so we're attempting to support those players and we're keeping the facility open for them to train and workout without any staff support other than just opening the facility and making sure they have access."

Shapiro predicts it will be months, not weeks, before MLB can start up again, but he doesn't expect players to be able to stay in game-ready shape while in self-isolation or while practising social distancing from their homes.

He said the team is in communication with its players, providing them with workout plans, including body-weight only options for a group of minor leaguers who are still in Florida in a team hotel. Those players, who are mostly from Venezuela and unable to return to their homes, are also being provided three meals a day.

While some of Toronto's major league players have more "sophisticated" home gyms and can complete more elaborate programs, Shapiro isn't putting too much emphasis on their fitness right now either.

"I do think at this point the physical exercise that they can do is much (more) about mental health and maintaining some semblance of normalcy and routine and probably a little bit less baseball-specific," Shapiro said. "There's almost no one who could maintain game-ready shape in light of the circumstances and that is not a priority at the moment."

Shapiro believes that baseball, once it resumes, can have the ability to bring back a "sense of normalcy" after what could be months of dealing with the spreading virus.

"Obviously, the bulk of what's going on now we can't control but we can control our reaction and we can control our thoughts," he said, adding that he believes there's a need to remain optimistic.

"The role that baseball has played historically in North America, in the country of Canada and the country of the United States, we have overcome tragedy like 9-11, we've overcome wars, depression, and baseball has played a role in the healing and the return to normalcy.

"It's brought people together (and offered) a sense of normalcy and a sense of comfort. So there will be a time that baseball returns and there will be a time that baseball is capable of providing that sense of community for all of us to heal."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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