JUPITER, Fla. — Outdoor meetings, dugout limitations, a smaller Grapefruit League schedule. Navigating spring training 2021 has offered challenges to the Mets, even after last season’s initiation to protocols during a pandemic.
Communication remains the biggest issue.
“It’s been tough,” manager Luis Rojas said Wednesday before the Mets played their first nine-inning Grapefruit League game of the spring, a 14-9 loss to the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. “To do a lot of in-person meetings, there’s a lot of rooms where the max capacity is low, even though we have the space. There have been a lot of challenges, but we are finding ways to make adjustments.”
The Mets began camp as much in tune with Zoom as the average Manhattan office worker stranded at home, but lately Rojas and his coaches have tried to find a balance that brings in-person communication into play.
To that end, the Mets have instituted socially distanced outdoor meetings just to break the monotony of holding screens to their faces.
“The first 1 ½ weeks or so it was a Zoom call at 9 a.m. every morning and everybody logged on and did that,” said pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, who is in camp on a minor league contract. “Luis has made it clear that he likes seeing people’s faces and I think everybody would say the same.
“We have kind of shifted meetings to in the stadium, we are all spread out and we’ve got a speaker system going, so it gives Luis a chance to at least see part of our faces and get things going as far as camaraderie side and getting to know each other.”
Teams held summer camp after last season’s restart at their home ballparks, which for all the hassle of space limitations at least created a more controlled environment. The Mets held multiple workout sessions daily last summer at Citi Field.
After initially considering split workout sessions this spring, the Mets opted for their normal routine, spreading 75 players over four or five fields.
“There are a lot of moving parts, different than last [summer] at Citi Field, that one field, even though it turned into one day, one long day we were able to connect with each other,” Rojas said. “But this one with the facility being used it’s been a little tougher, but we are pulling it off I think.”
During exhibition games — the first two of which for the Mets were limited to seven innings as a safety measure — Rojas has found himself reminding players to wear masks in the dugout. Dugout space is tight at the Mets’ home, Clover Park, so Rojas is asking players to remain in a room until their time to play arrives.
“In-game that has been the challenge, to make sure guys stay away and they wear their masks in-game,” Rojas said. “We have reminded a couple of guys to do it.”
The shortened exhibition season brings another challenge. Most notable is the absence of split-squad games, which typically allow more players to get involved and build up at-bats or innings pitched in a competitive setting. Also, in a normal Grapefruit League season, the Mets would have two blank days on the schedule. This season, there are five.
“I don’t want to say we’re concerned, but you think about the position players, you think about the pitchers getting their reps out there and getting them where we want for the start of the season,” Rojas said. “Now with 21 games left, you wonder if they are going to get the number of at-bats they need. You wonder if the pitchers are going to get their innings. We feel pretty good where we are right now, but we share that with the guys, no split-squad, no B games, we do have some simulated games, but at the same time we want them to be healthy.”