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By Joe Kazmar
For the Record 

Kaz's Korner

Deader Balls, stronger health protocols face Spring Training

 

Last updated 2/17/2021 at 4:44pm



I’ve been writing this column for more than a half century, and today (Monday) is the first time in my career that I’m doing it with several inches of snow on the ground, icicles hanging from the window awnings and the temperature up to 24 degrees at noon with a wind chill of 10 degrees, where the actual temperature was supposed to be Tuesday morning.

I can just imagine the Global Warming crowd is hightailing back to their closets until this cold wave is over.

Ironically, major league baseball’s spring training begins this week for all 30 teams either at Florida (Grapefruit League) or Arizona (Cactus League) with the idea of training for six weeks and playing a normal 162-game schedule for 2021.

Last year’s shortened 60-game schedule used some new ideas to quicken games and enhance the post-season playoffs with some being used in 2021 while others were rejected by the player’s association.

In another change, MLB has slightly deadened its baseballs amid a years-long surge in home runs. MLB has cited an independent lab that found the new balls will fly 1 to 2 feet shorter when hit over 375 feet.

A record 6,776 homers were hit during the regular 2019 season and the rate fell only slightly during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season—from 6.6 percent of plate appearances resulting in homers in 2019 to 6.5 percent last year.

And several of the health protocols put in place last season will be monitored much more stringently with violators being hit where it hurts most—their pocketbooks.

Major League Baseball and the Players Association met last week and approved health and safety protocols for the 2021 MLB season, according to an article appearing in the Houston Chronicle last week.

Highlight of the meeting was a new league-wide code of conduct that prohibits many high-risk activities outside the ball park.

Failure to abide by the code of conduct could result in suspension or forfeiture of salary, according to a league announcement.

During spring training, the code of conduct forbids players and on-field staff from dining indoors at restaurants, frequenting gyms, casinos or bars and attending any gathering of 10 or more people.

Players must serve a five-day quarantine at their homes before reporting to Florida or Arizona later this week for their six-week stay in spring training.

In-take testing, which includes a temperature check, PCR test and a rapid antibody test began Sunday.

Teams had until last Friday to submit a list of up to 75 players who will be invited to spring training. Players can be added throughout camp, but the roster can never exceed 75.

During the regular season, players are allowed to leave their team hotel on the road only if given permission by a club compliance officer, the article pointed out. They are allowed to step outside for “low-risk outdoor activities,” exercise or outdoor dining if it is approved by the team.

Most on-field rules, adjustments and restrictions were carried over from the 60-game season in 2020, including seven-inning doubleheaders and starting extra innings with a runner on second base.

“The universal designated hitter will not be implemented, and the post-season is scheduled to contain 10 teams—reverting back to the pre-pandemic structure. Teams can have a 26-man opening-day roster that can expand to 28 in September.

“They can still carry a five-man taxi squad on road trips in case of a COVID-19 emergency,” the article continued.

MLB and the Players Association said they would revisit the rules periodically “to consider whether enhancements or relaxations of certain protocols are appropriate based on experience or changes in circumstances.”

Masks are required at all times in club facilities or in the dugout except for players who are warming up or in the game.

All players and staff will wear Kinexon contact tracing devices—a new wrinkle in 2021 that could better identify close contacts. The NFL and NBA have used similar devices during their seasons.

Players who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for a minimum of 10 days. Close contacts to a positive case face a mandatory seven-day quarantine. Players and other on-field staff will be tested “at least every other day” throughout spring training and the regular season.

KWICKIES…LeBron James can do just about anything very well on a basketball court, including faking a foul. However, he has been warned by the NBA for violating the “Anti-Flopping Rule” and should take his acting prowess to Hollywood.

The Daytona 500, which had a 16-car pileup in Sunday’s race, was won by Michael McDowell.

Daniel Berger rallied to regain his early lead and won the PGA Tour Pebble Beach Pro-Am last weekend. Strangely, there were no amateurs or fans for this year’s event due to COVID-19.

The University of Central Florida will hire former Auburn head basketball coach Gus Malzahn by the time this Korner hits the streets Wednesday.

JUST BETWEEN US…According to ESPN’s Ed Werder Monday morning, there are at least 12 teams who have expressed an interest in J.J. Watt after he was released last weekend by mutual consent by the Houston Texans. The top choice is the Pittsburgh Steelers where J.J. can join his two brothers, but J.J. wants a Super Bowl ring and Ben Roethlisberger cannot produce a Super Bowl season like Tom Brady did for Tampa Bay. In fact, First Take host Stephen A. Smith said Monday that Tampa Bay is exactly where J.J. should turn to win that coveted ring in 2021. Money is not nearly as important as a Super Bowl ring as far as J.J. is concerned.

 

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