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Mariners deal with rare Fourth of July with no ballgame

UPDATED: Sat., July 4, 2020

A worker cleans the batting cage after Seattle Mariners players finished a morning workout Saturday at T-Mobile Park.  (Elaine Thompson)
A worker cleans the batting cage after Seattle Mariners players finished a morning workout Saturday at T-Mobile Park. (Elaine Thompson)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

Perhaps the only thing normal about this Fourth of July in terms of tradition was the cooler temperatures and cloudy morning skies in the Puget Sound region, which gave way to a minimally warmer afternoon with a few less clouds and hints of sunshine.

The spread of the novel coronavirus canceled the annual major fireworks shows – Seattle Seafair Summer Fourth, Tacoma Freedom Fair, Bellevue Family 4th, Everett Colors of Freedom Festival and JBLM Freedom fest – forced limitations on barbecues and outdoor gatherings, and well, no virus can hurt hot dogs.

And of course, there were no Major League Baseball games being played. Afternoon baseball games on the Fourth of July are a staple for MLB. The Mariners would have been hosting the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:10 p.m. at T-Mobile Park. Instead, they had their second day of split-squad workouts in the restart to spring training being sold as “summer camp.”

The initial hope during the recent negotiations between MLB owners and the MLB Players association was restarting spring training on June 10 and having opening day on the Fourth of July. But both sides watched that hittable pitch go by without even a real swing at a result. Instead, they practiced on the day they could’ve started the 2020 season.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a Fourth of July we didn’t have a game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I said to somebody last night that it’s too bad that we weren’t able to open up our season today. I think it would have been awesome if it all could have come together.

“It really would have been a rallying point for everybody around our country, and it’s something we certainly need. Right now, as the testing has just gone through the roof in a number of different areas, I feel bad for a lot of people. The typical family get-togethers on the Fourth of July, the family things, a lot of that stuff is being canceled or put on hold.”

The absence of a game still labeled as the “National Pastime” on this particular holiday is glaring. The Mariners had home games the Fourth of July the previous three seasons.

“Baseball always weaves its way in there,” Servais said. “Whether it was on the radio, you’re watching a game on TV, how’s the local club doing? You’re playing it as a kid, you’re in a youth tournament. It’s always been baseball weaved into the Fourth of July. Luckily, we get to get out on the field today and work out, but it’s not the same as playing a game.”

Grading their safety

After the first day that featured morning and afternoon workouts from different groups of players, Servais was pleased with the effort by his players and coaches to adhere to the strict guidelines in place.

“It’s a change, it’s different,” Servais said. “We knew that coming in, and you just try to embrace it. The social distancing is a big thing. I know we’ve got a lot of people watching what we’re doing in the ballpark getting reminders to us.”

Servais got a reminder about distancing during batting practice on Friday.

“We had a few too many guys congregating around the batting cage yesterday,” he admitted. “That’s kind of the hangout place. We’ve got four or five guys hitting in a group, you got two or three hitting coaches around and you got a couple video guys around and before you look up you’ve got 18 people standing in an area that we shouldn’t be in. So we’ve got to make a few adjustments there.”

The pitchers have had an easier time in maintaining guidelines. They are allowed three baseballs to throw bullpen or long-toss with and then the balls are sanitized.

“I will probably feel better about it 10 days into this thing about routinewise,” Servais said. “As we all know, players are so locked into routine once they get to the ballpark. So it’s taken a little while to get there, but we’ll get there, we’re heading in the right direction.”

Coaching, teaching and communicating with the mask on can be challenging, but Servais considers it a minor inconvenience.

“We’ll adjust,” he said. “It’s the new norm. It definitely needs to happen. With what’s going on around the country right now, we really didn’t take this seriously. From what I’ve seen on TV, some of the clips from some of the workouts and how our workouts are going, everybody’s taking it very serious.”

Getting it Dunn

Justin Dunn threw a 20-pitch live batting-practice session Saturday morning, facing Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager and Brian O’Keefe. He was the only pitcher cleared to advance up from bullpen sessions since he’d been been throwing live sessions at the team’s complex in Arizona to his roommate, Jake Fraley, and first baseman Evan White.

“They took me deep back-to-back on the same day,” he said.

After deciding to remain in Arizona during the shutdown, he initially threw into a net at a small batting cage by himself. As things opened up, he was able to throw to bullpen catcher Fleming Baez in bullpen sessions.

“When the facility opened, I started throwing there,” he said. “I was throwing live BPs once a week and lifting, and I got up to almost two innings of live. Coming into Seattle, I was very comfortable with where I was at.”

After making his MLB debut last September, Dunn will be a part of the Mariners’ six-man rotation to start the season.

“Definitely excited,” he said. “At the same time, I know nothing is going to be handed to me. I have to put the work in – continuous effort day in and day out to be the best I can be.”Also

For fans wanting to see the Mariners’ workouts, the team has decided to livestream the morning and afternoon workouts from Monday through Friday on their YouTube channel, Facebook page and other social media. There are three computer-controlled cameras in the park that can show the bullpens, the batter’s box and the wide angle of the field.

Servais said the team will start intrasquad games on July 10. The Mariners are working with ESPN 710 for some live broadcasts of those games. ROOT Sports might also televise them, but possibly on a delayed basis, opting to show them in the evening and work in some interviews and other news. “The intrasquad games every day will not all be nine-inning games,” he said. “It’ll all depend on what pitching we have available for those particular days. So right now the first one … we’re probably going to have five or six innings that day. We need to get our hitters the live at-bats. I’m hoping by the end of all the intrasquad games that our guys that need to get ready for opening day that they’ve had somewhere close to 30 at-bats.

Besides Gordon, Daniel Vogelbach made his first appearance on the field in the Saturday-morning practice. The afternoon practice was not open to media. But Servais did say that there were still a handful of players awaiting clearance from their COVID-19 testing to join the team.

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