LOS ANGELES — In a season filled with unknowns, the Dodgers are about to fly off into one of the big ones.
Most of the Dodgers players, coaches and staff will board four buses at Dodger Stadium Monday afternoon, taking up socially-distanced positions, and head to the airport where they will get on a charter plane and fly to Houston, remaining in their seats as much as possible during the 3 1/2-hour flight and eating their individually-prepared meals.
The Dodgers’ first road trip of the season will take them to Houston and Phoenix (two of the recent hotspots in the coronavirus surge) before returning to California for a series in San Diego. MLB has opted for a regional schedule during this 60-game regular season to minimize travel. This nine-game trip will be the Dodgers’ first test of the health and safety protocols MLB has put in place for teams to travel during a pandemic.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think that certainly it’s unknown but understanding we’re flying (on a charter, not commercial). All the people that are flying with us are going to be Tier One (meaning they are subject to frequent testing for the coronavirus). Going from the airplane to the hotel. Food will be delivered, brought to us individually on the plane and then we’ll get to Houston and then eat their individually packaged meals. And I expect everyone to stay in the hotel and then go to the ballpark and sort of go from the ballpark to the hotel, hotel to the ballpark.
“I’m encouraged. I think we’ll be fine.”
The Dodgers have been fairly isolated since reporting for Summer Camp almost four weeks ago. Two players (A.J. Pollock and Kenley Jansen) have acknowledged they contracted COVID-19 before reporting. Other players were late to camp for unspecified reasons. Travel opens up new risks of exposure.
“Myself and all my teammates, we’ve been really, really cautious and careful here,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “The flight will be isolated with just us. I think they’re testing the pilots and flight attendants so we should be good from that aspect.
“But, yeah, we’ll have to be extra careful in the hotel with housekeeping being around. I don’t know what it looks like in hotels for regular people renting rooms in there. We’ll just be extra careful, kind of stay at the hotel or just go to the field. … But you still gotta go for it and kind of test it out and see what works and doesn’t work.”
If something doesn’t work, a team could find themselves in a position similar to the Miami Marlins with four players having tested positive on the road this week. That puts the onus on players to “self-police” and not break the hotel-ballpark ‘ bubble on the road.
“I think right now if you have common sense you know what you can and can’t do,” Kike’ Hernandez said during Summer Camp. “I think the travel worries us and I think the main reason why we’re worried about it is because we don’t know what that’s going to look like. I think once we start traveling and seeing how things are flowing and stuff I think it’s going to be easier to answer the question about whether or not we feel safe during the season.
“For now, just have common sense, know what’s at stake and what could be at stake if you do something stupid. (You’re) not only putting yourself at risk but you’re putting basically the entire team, the entire coaching staff and everybody that is working really hard to to make this possible (at risk). So for now just have common sense and don’t be an idiot.”
Roberts said Sunday that he has had “one-off” conversations with some players about the need to be cautious on the road but he didn’t feel he needed to address the entire team.
“I think that they’ve had their own conversations, which is important, and probably more impactful,” Roberts said. “We have talked about the fact that you have to win on the field, but also winning off the field is going to be important for each team. So staying safe and trying to win the battle of attrition in 2020 is going to be beneficial as well.”
With so much time to kill in their hotel rooms, there could be other battles going on as well.
“Probably a lot of video games being played in our rooms,” Smith said of how players will pass the time away from the ballpark. “It’s just the normal stuff you do every day. It’s not going to restaurants. It’s Postmating something or Uber Eats or whatever. Just kind of doing what you have to do, and just kind of accepting that we can’t do exactly what we want just for the safety of others and our teammates and we’ve got to go about it that way.”
Though Roberts did not reveal it before Saturday’s game, Pollock was not with the team. He posted on Instagram that he had returned to Arizona where his daughter, Maddi Mae, was released from the hospital after 128 days in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Maddi was born prematurely on March 19.
Pollock rejoined the Dodgers on Sunday and started as their DH.
When teams play on the road this season, a three-man taxi squad will travel with them. The players will be part of the team’s travel group in case they are needed due to injury.
Roberts said Sunday afternoon that the team had not finalized the makeup of their taxi squad for the first trip but “most likely” it will include Zach McKinstry because of “that versatility he has.” McKinstry played five positions (second base, shortstop, third base, left field and center field) at Double-A and Triple-A last season.
The Dodgers’ taxi group will also include a catcher (either Keibert Ruiz or Rocky Gale) and a relief pitcher.
“We haven’t settled on the relief pitcher,” Roberts said. “There’s a couple options we’re kind of contemplating.”