TAMPA — In this age of coronavirus, a safer locale Friday can transform to a less safe place by Sunday. A sound strategy can turn unsound in fewer than 48 hours.
Yet everyone can agree on the greater reality, which chose George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday as its latest declaration: Right now, nowhere is truly safe, no game plan foolproof.
It turned into yet another whirlwind day here. What began as a continued show of solidarity, the majority of the Yankees players showing up and getting in some work with the season suspended, concluded with multiple players leaving for their homes far away. And in between, the Yankees became the first baseball team to have a player — a minor leaguer whom the team didn’t identify — test positive for coronavirus, thereby seeing Major League Baseball join the National Basketball Association as leagues that have sustained a direct hit from this still-mysterious disease.
No wonder Masahiro Tanaka, after throwing a bullpen session on Sunday, dodged a simple question concerning whether he’d return to the property on Tuesday, following Monday’s long-scheduled day off. Said Tanaka, through his interpreter, “I wouldn’t be able to say 100 percent for sure, just because everything’s so fluid and everything’s changing day by day.”
Man, is it ever. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman pulled into the employee parking lot here at about 9:30 a.m. and departed around 90 minutes later. He made the most of his time, convening the major league players to inform them of the minor leaguer’s positive coronavirus test as well as discuss new guidelines announced by Major League Baseball that strongly discouraged the clubs from staying put, as the Yankees had voted unanimously to do just two days prior.
Player representative Zack Britton, who had proudly declared that unanimous vote, said he’d return on Tuesday, yet he sounded far less confident that the original plan would sustain. He told The Post, “In a couple of weeks, we’ll see where things stand and get a better sense of what we’re going to do.” It turned out to be closer to a couple of hours.
Even though the Yankees players appeared to largely be socially distancing — for instance, Tanaka threw to bullpen catcher Radley Haddad 60 feet and 6 inches away, with no one else in the vicinity — the baseball powers clearly didn’t like the idea of too many players being too close to each other. While the Yankees believe that their afflicted minor leaguer — a “younger player,” as Cashman described him, who was said to be symptom-free by Sunday — did not interact at all with anyone who reports to the big-league facility, that hardly provided much reassurance.
As Cashman said in a telephone conference call, “We’ve had no other corona[virus] testing necessary at this time. Just like anybody, is that likely to stick? I would say no, it’s not likely to stick.”
Cashman also suggested, when discussing the high volume of players who had stuck around, “I just suspect it’s going to change, because things have continued to change.” Hours later, that suspicion gained vindication. Since we’re discussing the rapid rate of change, can we maybe put a stop to hypothesizing when the baseball season will start until the coronavirus curve flattens? It might make the most sense right now to assume there won’t be a season at all and then be pleasantly surprised if a better scenario emerges.
Vast uncertainty rules the world. No matter where they head, the Yankees, like the rest of us, won’t find a fully safe haven anywhere. They sure as heck didn’t need Sunday’s developments to teach them that, but they got them anyway.