The Yankees’ equipment truck was leaving Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon, and the team buses were scheduled to do the same in about 45 minutes. Their game against the Phillies had been postponed, just like the previous night’s game matchup, so they were headed back to New York to get ready for a Wednesday game in the Bronx.
Then Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman called Manager Aaron Boone to ask him what he thought about playing the Orioles in Baltimore on Wednesday instead.
Boone was up for it. So were Yankees players, after reliever Zack Britton, the club’s players’ union representative, called for a team meeting and a vote before 1 p.m. During the meeting, Britton asked Ben Tuliebitz, the Yankees’ director of team travel and player services, if he could get the 70-some hotel rooms the club needed in Baltimore that quickly. Tuliebitz thought he could.
After Orioles players also approved the schedule changes and Major League Baseball signed off, the Yankees redirected their route south. By around 8 p.m., the Yankees were working out at Camden Yards in Baltimore in anticipation of a hastily assembled two-game series against the Orioles. A day later, the Yankees had a 9-3 win thanks to nearly seven innings from Gerrit Cole and home runs from Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and D.J. LeMahieu.
“I never really thought the schedule would change ever throughout the year and go to a different city,” Yankees first baseman Mike Ford said before Wednesday’s game.
Added Tuliebitz, “It’s been a crazy couple days.”
This is the mad scramble of playing professional baseball amid a pandemic. An outbreak of at least 17 cases on the Miami Marlins meant they and the Phillies, whom the Marlins played over the weekend, were barred from playing games for several days. That left M.L.B. and the Yankees clamoring to rearrange schedules and find new matchups on short notice.
More changes are on the way: Boone said before Wednesday’s game that the Yankees were expecting to make up their games against the Phillies next week and alter their previously scheduled trip to Florida to play the Tampa Bay Rays.
“We’re drinking out of a fire hose on all this stuff right now,” Cashman said on Tuesday.
Although the Yankees want to play as scheduled, none of their players or officials have complained publicly about their postponements. On Monday, they were concerned about playing a team recently exposed to the Marlins and using the same visiting clubhouse as Miami had.
They summoned their own clubhouse employees from Yankee Stadium to disinfect the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse rather than use the Phillies’ personnel — one of whom tested positive for the coronavirus.
By Tuesday, Boone said, he would have been OK with playing at Citizens Bank Park if M.L.B. had allowed the games, but he understood the caution being exercised. And when another option presented itself, the Yankees seized it. After all, they believe they are primed to contend for a World Series title this season.
“We want to compete,” Cashman said. “If we’re off a day or two or a week or two, whatever it happens to be, so be it. We’ll deal with it and we’ll adjust to it.”
After their game on Monday was called off because the Phillies were undergoing additional testing, the Yankees were largely sequestered inside their hotel. Players worked out indoors and played catch outside. They ate team meals from individually packaged containers in the hotel, watched baseball games on TV and waited.
“I took a walk one day to get a coffee but other than that in the hotel,” said Ford, who said he opted not to see his brother, who lives in Philadelphia, because of the Marlins’ outbreak.
The Games Resume
Sports and the Virus
Updated July 29, 2020
Here’s what’s happening as the world of sports slowly comes back to life:
- Baseball’s botched return could be a warning for the N.F.L., which is returning without sequestering players. It may be too late for the league to change its plans.
- Baseball’s woes have the N.B.A. convinced that a “bubble” approach is the only kind that can work for team sports in the Covid-19 era.
- At least 17 members of the Miami Marlins, including 15 players, tested positive, throwing baseball’s schedule into turmoil.
After their Tuesday game was also postponed, the Yankees packed up their belongings to head home, where they were originally scheduled to play the Phillies twice. But after M.L.B. decided to put the Phillies on pause for several days given their exposure to the Marlins and the incubation period of the virus, the Yankees’ plans shifted yet again. (No Phillies players or coaches have tested positive thus far.)
The Orioles, who were supposed to play the Marlins, were an obvious fit as a new opponent.
“We felt like we don’t want to take three or four days off,” Britton said.
Pulling off a 60-game regular season with 30 teams across the country, including in hot spots like Georgia and Florida, requires so much to go right. And while some Yankees have occasionally violated some of M.L.B.’s protocols by spitting or high-fiving, players have repeatedly met to talk about their behavior on and away from the field.
“Most of the time it might be somebody pulling a guy aside and saying, ‘Hey, make sure we’re keeping a mask on or keeping our distance,’” Britton said. “Thankfully, we haven’t really had a need to call somebody out.”
The season, though, may change again in an instant. Cashman said the Yankees were approaching it week by week. The Yankees’ new home opener will be on Friday against the rival Boston Red Sox. After that three-game series, Boone said, the Yankees are expected to play four games against the Phillies — Aug. 3 and 4 in New York and Aug. 5 and 6 in Philadelphia.
Boone also said the Yankees are still expected to travel to face the Rays, their stiffest division rival after a 96-win season in 2019, next weekend, but what was once supposed to be a four-game series over four days may be squeezed into three days with a doubleheader. M.L.B. has not yet announced these changes.
Tuliebitz said Yankees officials were discussing the team’s policy on whether players — several of whom live in the Tampa area in the off-season — could stay at home instead of the team hotel. He said players have even considered having their family members tested for the virus before their arrival.
Reliever Adam Ottavino said he was not concerned about going to a state where the spread of the virus was rampant, because he planned to be only on the team charter plane and the bus and at the field and hotel.
“I’m not really in Tampa,” he said. “I’m in a lot of small areas.”
During a normal year, Tuliebitz said he has mapped out the Yankees’ travel arrangements at least eight months in advance. Now, he said he is looking at the upcoming weeks.
“We’re trying to pull this all together pretty quickly,” he said. “The most difficult part is making sure we’re doing things right.”