TAMPA — How long can a group of professionals enjoy and endure sheer relaxation on the clock?
What happens when every spring-training day becomes the most cherished “Team’s on the road, veterans stay back” variety?
Consider the Yankees a test case.
To be clear, the defending American League East champions naturally grasp the serious and scary situation that wiped out the remainder of their Grapefruit League schedule and the start of their regular-season slate. They’d much rather be heading into the final week of camp, injuries and all, than following the latest coronavirus news.
Yet the Yankees made a morsel of coronavirus-created good cheer on Friday when, granted the opportunity to return home if they so desired, they unanimously voted to stay put and work out together. Saturday marked day one of this new reality at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
“A large group of players showed up today, and we were to do defensive work, infield work,” Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza said as he departed the property. “Guys hit indoors. Pitchers played catch. We’ll continue to do that.”
Sounds boring, right? For ballplayers, it can be blissful, too, at least in small doses.
Stipulating that most guys enjoy their work, you won’t find a frown among, say, 1,000 out of 1,000 experienced players who get told to skip a long bus trip to another team’s venue — particularly in spread-out Florida — and just report to their home ballpark to get in some work. The Yankees were experiencing such a day on Thursday, with Aaron Boone and a somewhat representative squad taking on the Nationals across the state in West Palm Beach, when Major League Baseball shut down. Most of the names you know reported to The George by 9 a.m. and were out the door by noon. Gerrit Cole and J.A. Happ threw bullpen sessions. Position players like Brett Gardner, Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit took batting practice. Injured guys like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton received treatment and did the rehabilitation they could.
Now every day becomes one of those days. By 9 a.m. Saturday, everyone had reported to work. By noon, virtually everyone was gone.
“It’s pretty strange,” Mendoza said. “Obviously a difficult situation, but we’re trying our best to do what we can.”
As Scott Boras contended to The Post’s Joel Sherman, this arguably represents the best call, superior to going to either your offseason home or your club’s regular-season locale. Keeping your players together under regular medical supervision, in warm weather where the virus hasn’t hit too dramatically, off of airplanes, carries multiple benefits, in addition to the spiritual benefit of building camaraderie and firing up your fan base. The Padres are the only other team reported to be staying together en masse.
Yet with the future so uncertain and open-ended, dependent on the containment of this pandemic, a low-stakes question figures to emerge: Will this routine lead to diminishing returns? Will players get antsy? Logistically, will the expiration of housing leases at the end of this month spur any into different actions?
In the next-to-last episode of “The Good Place” — a spoiler alert goes without saying — the show’s heroes, having fixed the evaluation system that determined afterlife destinations, realize that they’ve created a heaven so perfect that it numbs its occupants. Softens their edges.
Relative to the coronavirus scares elsewhere on the globe and in this country, Tampa and The George represent good places to be for these folks. Will that sentiment be as strong in two weeks? A month? Two months?
The test case has started. We’ll learn of its sustainability together, in real time.
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