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On the Road: Cardinals plunge into 'abnormal normal,' as travel means navigating local policies, too

On the Road: Cardinals plunge into 'abnormal normal,' as travel means navigating local policies, too

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MINNEAPOLIS – The predictable, inevitable messages started on social media and email before the rental car crossed the Daniel Boone Bridge and headed north toward Hannibal, then Iowa, and finally the Twin Cities.

The first road trip of the Cardinals season was a day away from starting, and this season, for the reporters covering the team, the "road" in road trip is literal. Covering the 2020 Cardinals will, for the most part, mean seeing the National League Central and American League Central from street level. Forget STL to MSP by way of SWA. It’s riding the asphalt ribbon called the Avenue of the Saints – passing through New London and past the sign for New Prague.

My coffee hadn’t cooled when people suggested I turn back early Monday morning.

“Drive slow,” wrote one longtime Chicago baseball writer on Twitter to me. “You may be turning around midway.”

Baseball was upended overnight as reports of an outbreak of COVID-19 positive tests gripped the Miami Marlins roster, forcing the postponement of at least two games and leaving an organization unsure of its next move. It wouldn’t be out of quarantine in Philadelphia on Monday. Four teams were caught in uncertainty – the Baltimore Orioles, who were waiting for the Marlins in Miami for the home opener there; the New York Yankees, were set to replace the Marlins in the visitors’ clubhouse in Philadelphia; the Phillies, who had just been on the field with the Marlins as the virus spread; and the Marlins. ESPN and The Athletic reported morning that the number of positive tests for players had grown to almost half the roster.

This is the question that John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations, asked several months ago: What happens if an entire team goes into quarantine?

“Do you have to shut down the league?” he said.

The answer: Not so far.

The Cardinals traveled, as planned, on Monday night to the Twin Cities. They landed around 8:30 p.m. St. Louis time, all masked up and moving in the virtual, portable bubble they have attempted to maintain around them. Carlos Martinez will make his anticipated return to the rotation and do so against the lineup that set an MLB record for homers last season and then went and added former MVP Josh Donaldson. At least once during their visit to Minneapolis, the Cardinals will go through the testing protocols, and in talking to players it seems like not many plan to leave their hotel, except to go to the ballpark.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt had a great description of the process of moving from home to ballpark, now city to city, and hotel to ballpark.

“Abnormal normal,” Shildt said.

The opening stanza of Chapter 7 of MLB’s 2020 Operations Manuel says that every team “must make all necessary arrangements to facilitate safe, clean, and hygienic travel” for members of the team’s traveling party. This includes, it spells out in the fourth sentence that while the team might be creating a bubble as it moves from place to place, it is not immune from the “state and local travel restrictions where they are located, along the route, and at the planned destination.”

Pulling into downtown Minneapolis on Monday evening, there were restaurants open and patrons outside a pub near my hotel. Mostly distanced. Some masks.

Won’t be going there.

Players won’t be going anywhere.

When I arrived at the hotel, they presented me with a list of restaurants that were open, their hours, and some hints as to how to order ahead or what to do when there. Being on the road for the first time since spring training and checking into a hotel for the first time since the Winter Meetings – wherever those were in 2019 – it’s eerily quiet. The lobby bar isn’t just empty, it’s fiercely so. The tables and chairs have been moved around not to invite people to sit, but to keep them from entering. The pool has been drained, the lights darkened. There is no smell of chlorine, only hand sanitizer. The workout room is closed – and locked. It takes me a moment to figure out whether I should take the elevator or find the stairs. I look for signage to give me a hint.

The Twin Cities are in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening, but already some of the policies are starting to shift. As of Saturday, per executive order from Gov. Tim Walz, masks are required to be worn in all indoor business and indoor public spaces. Anywhere I walk in the hotel outside my room, I must wear a mask. Doing so is already part of the travel protocols for the Cardinals. The Star Tribune reported Tuesday morning that in the opening hours of the policy Minnesota health officials received 80 complaints of noncompliance.

According to the state’s department of health, Minnesota has 51,803 confirmed infections, and the state has recorded 1,576 deaths from the coronavirus. The Star Tribune points out that the concern is the increase in the rate of positive tests, from six per 100,000 to 11 per 100,000 in the past month.

“Health officials are concerned that this could lead to a second surge of increases in hospitalization and deaths,” the paper states.

“As we watch numbers rise across the country,” the Minnesota Department of Health says on its web site explaining the mask policy, “we know the COVID-19 outbreak is not over.”

Part of covering baseball this season is watching those numbers.

Those numbers influence policies.

Policies will decide how far I’ll get on this road.

This seems to change almost daily. On Tuesday morning, the city of Chicago announced that Wisconsin was being added to a travel quarantine list. Missouri will join Wisconsin on the list as of July 31, according to the city’s policy.

The Cardinals are scheduled to play this weekend in Milwaukee and then hop the lake for a two-game series in Detroit. But, the Cardinals next road trip starts in Dyersville, Iowa, against the Chicago White Sox and then plops the team in Chicago, in its bubble, for series against the Sox and the first visit of the season to Wrigley Field. Iowa was on Chicago’s list of 19 states before Wisconsin and Missouri. A quarantine would make a series impossible.

Residents and visitors of Chicago who are coming back from spending 24 hours or more in the named states are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days. The policy is reviewed every Tuesday. It is tied to the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the state and if it reaches more than an average of 15 per 100,000. And there are exemptions from the policy, such as “essential workers.” The city also has the right to grant additional exemptions – which baseball would pursue for teams by trumpeting their protocols, which will have to include the response to Miami’s situation.

What that means for baseball writers threading from state to state could mean staying less than 24 hours in certain states (hello Iowa, so long Iowa) – or not being able to cover some series in person. I have already had to promise to drive to one series because the host team requires writers who fly into the city to go through a quarantine that is longer than the Cardinals’ visit.

I have also checked what cities and states allow for U-turns.

Best to be prepared.

My companions for the drive Monday were the hosts on MLB Network Radio, and that started with Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette on their show, “Power Alley,” going through the latest updates on the Marlins’ tests, the postponed games, the Yankees reaction, and so on. They had Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist from Emory, on as a guest, and Ferrin asked a key question: What do the tests of the Phillies really tell us on a Monday, a day after possible exposure to the Marlins and COVID-19 on the field? Binney described the incubation period of the virus and how negative tests Tuesday might not clear the Phillies. They might not yet be positive, they might not yet be contagious. That could happen Wednesday or Thursday – when they’re scheduled to be playing the Yankees.

Binney suggested five days of games be postponed.

Tuesday is Day 2.

And it seems like these concerns, actions, reactions, and uncertainties are going to greet the season at every turn. Rather than duck into a hub city or plant all the teams in one place – an idea that was not palatable to players – baseball wanted to bring the game to its cities, to be a part of the reopening of those cities. That’s the feel around Minneapolis. Foot traffic is light, but it’s there. Places are open this morning. I can see them from my window. But every new city will have a new policy, each new week will bring a different question, and baseball’s reaction is going to determine whether teams and the game can get to the end of the season.

Or just the end of the road.


Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter



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