The coronavirus pandemic is a global event, and that extends to islands. In the Dominican Republic, there have been 15,723 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, a rate of 1,518 per million people, well under the United States’ total rate of 5,267 per million, but higher than several states and on par with Vermont’s rate of 1,520 cases per million people.
Every team in Major League Baseball has a facility in the Dominican, and all of those facilities, sensibly, are closed — though there is a caveat to that.
“In order to best protect the health and safety of both players and staff at the Club academies, and in consultation with medical experts, we directed Clubs to cease organized workouts and to send their international players home, to the extent that the players had a safe and convenient place to which they could return,” MLB said in a statement released to Deadspin this week. “Those players who could not return home continue to live at the academies, which operate with a minimal staff. MLB continues to prohibit organized workouts and requires Club academies to follow hygiene and social distancing protocols.”
The players who were unable to leave the Dominican are almost all from Venezuela, which has banned almost all flights into the country and now is instituting curfews along its land borders to try to stop the virus in its tracks. Venezuela has had only 1,245 total confirmed cases, a rate of 39 per million people, but in the past 10 days has seen a spike in new cases, twice exceeding 100 in a day.
“The Royals academy in the DR is still housing 12 Venezuelan players that could not be sent home since the Venezuelan government closed their borders very early and are not allowing any flights into the country, except for humanitarian flights,” Fabio Herrera, Kansas City’s manager of international operations, told Deadspin in an email. “Per MLB guidelines, players are not playing games nor having staff go to the facility for workouts. They are working out every day on their own per team guidelines. They are pretty much shelled from the outside world which has kept them safe from the virus as only essential personnel is allowed into the academy at the moment.”
Some teams have more players and some staff members living at their academies, but the situation is generally similar across the Dominican MLB landscape. Kitchen staff, janitors, security, and medical workers comprise the group of essential workers, and baseball has taken a back seat to making sure that the stranded Venezuelans are taken care of on a human level. That means not only making sure everyone has food and shelter, but addressing the effects that living through a pandemic can have on a person.
“Players, both in and out of the academy, are monitored continuously by our player development staff, scouts, and mental health professionals,” Herrera said. “This is also complemented by video-conference calls where we discuss several topics with players regarding both on- and off- the-field topics.”
This is a challenging time for everyone’s mental health, but it’s a particular challenge to be 18-20 years old and unable to return to your home country during a time of crisis. Making sure that these players have access to any help they need is absolutely vital. So is preserving their safety.
“We are providing meals every day to the players, 24-hour security, and no outside guests outside of general maintenance needs are permitted,” Texas Rangers spokesman John Blake said. “The players are able to participate in individual daily physical activity but no full organized workouts are occurring.”
Some teams, who declined to comment on the record, did confirm that players are getting temperature screenings and symptom checks, but nothing was said about regular tests for the virus itself, which of course can be carried asymptomatically. For now, though, these players are safe and practicing social distancing in a place where the virus hasn’t reached severe levels, thanks in part to effective governmental response.
“They are mostly focused on economic activities, restriction of movement for citizens, and a curfew that has been instituted nation-wide since mid-March, which has evolved throughout the last two months,” Herrera said. “The government guidance regarding sports only talks about live events, which are cancelled until further notice as well as all forms of mass gatherings.”
There will be live sports on Saturday in Santo Domingo, with a boxing card for which all COVID-19 testing has been completed. If that means baseball players at the academies soon will be allowed to play pickup games, that could go a long way toward those stranded from their home countries feeling a bit more normal amid a unique and scary situation.