St. Louis Cardinals All-Star shortstop Paul DeJong poured over the 67-page health and safety proposal Major League Baseball sent to players during the weekend, was mesmerized by the exhaustive details and was left with one question.
No sunflower seeds?
“I think it’s a great protocol with everyone getting tested every day,’’ DeJong told USA TODAY Sports. “But once we get past that, and into the season, I think things should get back to normal. I just feel like if we pass the exam and the daily testing, we should act freely in the clubhouse and on the field, and have fun.
“You can’t change having guys holding runners on first base. How about the catcher and the umpire and the batter all together at the plate? You can’t high-five?
Paul DeJong, wearing white gloves, is congratulated after hitting a home run in spring training. Banning high-fives is among the rules proposed by MLB as part of the shortened 2020 season. (Photo: Jim Rassol, USA TODAY Sports)
“And I can’t even think about no sunflower seeds. That’s such a minimal risk.’’
This will be baseball in 2020, although it may feel more like a boot camp. Players are being advised to shower only at home or in their hotel rooms. No more buffets at the ballpark. No restaurants or bars on the road. No use of swimming pools or saunas. And don’t you dare let a soul into your hotel room outside immediate family members.
“I know we need testing protocols and assurances we’re OK,’’ DeJong says, “but I don’t know how sustainable all these ideas are. Some of these things are crazy, and are hard to enforce.
“This could be an infrastructure nightmare. It’s not going to be perfect right away, but guys have to ride with it.’’
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MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association are scheduled to resume negotiations this week, with perhaps the biggest hurdle being economic as owners ask the players to assume part of the financial risk of playing with no fans. There is hard deadline for negotiations to conclude, but the hope still is that at least 82 regular-season games can be played beginning by the July 4th weekend with a record 14 teams qualifying for the postseason in October.
“I want to play, we all want to play,’’ DeJong says, “and I’m pretty optimistic now this is going to happen. With all this going on, we won’t take any unnecessary risk, but we’d all rather be out there than sitting home and sulking.
“We’ll be fine once we agree to a reasonable plan.’’
Still, no matter how many protocols, there will always be risk playing during the coronavirus pandemic. MLB to keep clubhouses, dugouts and other areas at ballparks disinfected as much as possible, but renowned chemist Lawrence Rocks, whose son is DeJong's agent, Burton Rocks, cautions that even cleaning solutions could be hazardous.
“The vapors from the ammonia and chlorine compounds, which are used in industrial cleaning, if used excessively, as with any overdose, can cause cilia damage in mucus membranes,’’ Rocks told USA TODAY Sports, "and can actually have the effect of making a person more susceptible to virus or bacterial infection. These chemicals, which are often used in a deep clean of a building, can cause loss of oxygen transport in deep lung tissue, which takes the edge off a player considerably.
“Thus, any cleaning of any ballpark locker room, or any hotel room where a player lives, which is necessary given the transmissibility of COVID-19, needs to be done under OSHA standards, and with full knowledge that an elite athlete so as not to over-use the cleaners.”
DeJong, 26, a biochemistry and pre-science major at Illinois State who graduated with a 3.74 GPA, understands the health risks more than most of his peers. His own agent is a high-risk candidate, surviving three code blues as an infant with asthma.
Rocks said when fans are permitted to attend games, teams should forget about bobblehead day and instead have “Activated Carbon Mask’’ giveaways. And in the meantime, clubs should send the masks to season-ticket holders as a goodwill gesture, Burton Rocks and DeJong said.
“Right now, we have to protect our kids,’’ Burton Rocks said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for teams to jump on this. Who knows, a little kid may be inspired to invent the next vaccine?’’
DeJong, whose 74 homers in his first three seasons trail only future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in Cardinals history, is fascinated how this season will play out. It’ll be a season like no other. Forget the age-old mantra; it’s now a sprint and not a marathon.
Losing streaks may blow up a season. Slumps will feel endless. The separator in this truncated season, DeJong said, may be the mental edge.
“I want to be ready because it’s going to be an adjustment,’’ DeJong said. “This shortened season will really test ourselves with all of the anxiety. You can’t look at it like, 'Oh, we just lost four in a row, and now we’re 3½ games back.’ You start thinking about those things, and it brings on an intense state. You have to be fearless, and trust yourself, staying in the moment as much as you can.’’
DeJong already started devising ways to rejuvenate his body and mind. He has been practicing cymatics, the study of sound and vibration. He meditates in the mornings and listening to soothing music while his mattress and pillow vibrate, the pain and stress washed away by sound. He calls it a mental reset.
He is religiously watching the Food Network, particularly proud of his steak au poivre. And he has immersed himself into books, and no, not one is about sports, let alone having anything to do with baseball.
He said he is reading five books these days, hoping to finish all by the resumption of spring training in June.
Let’s see, there’s “Sacred Geometry and Architecture’’ by Arturo Ponce de Leon, “Magnet Therapy Theory and Practice’’ by Bengali C. Neville, “An Esoteric Cosmology,’’ by Rudolf Steiner, “The wellspring of Good’’ by Beinsa Douno and “Holographic Blood’’ by Harvey Bigelsen.
Yeah, just your typical assortment of reading material by one of the game’s youngest stars.
“I like to read all kinds of random stuff,’’ DeJong says. “I’m really interested in magnets now, how we have our magnetic fields as humans. There can be imbalances in our own magnetic fields, and that can be rectified in therapy, using magnets to balance yourself.
“I’m a very big picture person, and I’m just trying to get all of these disciplines and bringing them together.’’
The reward is a World Series championship, and even if this season tramples all tradition, playing 82 games with no fans in the stands, no high-fives, no Gatorade bath, no sunflower seeds, this season may be forever cherished in baseball history.
“The asterisk may live in the mind of the fan, but none of us will consider it like that,’’ DeJong says. “We’re all competing on the same field under the same rules.
“I think with all of the sacrifices everyone will be making will make it that much more personal. The games could get more intense. The season will mean so much to so many people.
“You win the World Series after enduring this, no one will forget it.
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