CEDAR RAPIDS — The COVID-19 tests are a breeze for Scott Schebler.
They aren’t the go-through-the-nose ones that seem to almost touch your brain and everyone who has gotten one says are so uncomfortable and painful.
Major League Baseball has contracted with a testing company that uses saliva to test for the coronavirus. Spit into a tube, write your name on it, and there you go.
The antibodies test is done by checking blood and is the more invasive of the two. Schebler and other members of the Cincinnati Reds have been tested five times already, less than 10 days into what has become a restart of spring training in the middle of the summer as MLB attempts to get off a delayed 60-game regular season and playoffs.
“The only word to really describe it is ‘odd,’” Schebler, the Cedar Rapids Prairie graduate, said of team workouts at Great American Ball Park and another facility in nearby Mason, Ohio. “It’s different, odd, and I think everybody is so programmed with what we used to do. I know it’s only been three months, but that programming doesn’t go away in just three months. You’ve got guys who still want to high-five, handshake and hug. That’s something that as we get used to the new norm, it’ll be easier.”
Schebler is one of about 60 players in camp, trying to become part of an expanded 30-man major league roster. The other guys will be part of a taxi squad, available for call-ups if someone is injured or gets COVID-19.
They all met a week ago for the first time since spring training was shut down in Arizona in mid-March. Wearing masks and trying to social distance are just two parts of an extensive list of safety protocols established to keep players, coaches and managers healthy.
“I would definitely say the first day of camp, it was just odd to be there and know the new restrictions,” Schebler said. “I just think everybody was so hesitant to do anything. You don’t want to offend anybody because, like anything, you’ve got people taking it very, very seriously, as they should. There are just a lot of opinions, which is human nature. It’s not necessarily good, it’s not necessarily bad. I’m just trying to be on the safe side and not wanting to offend anybody by being too close or not wearing my mask. I’m doing my best to hold it in and make my teammates feel as comfortable as they can be.”
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Schebler said, yes, he feels comfortable right now with the environment everyone is in. The Reds have repeatedly stressed to their players to be as safe as possible, don’t go to bars at night or do other things that could expose them and, subsequently, the rest of the team.
Games are scheduled to get underway in a couple of weeks.
“I can only do it off the numbers, and the numbers are 98.7 percent of players are negative,” Schebler said. “And, obviously, we’re five tested and are still at that number. I’ve got to believe it’s pretty safe, and the protocols are pretty good. The only thing that gets interesting is the travel. That’s the one interesting thing, and the one ‘X’ factor. Then trying to figure out if you do have an outbreak, what you do. But I feel like they’ve gone a really good job on protocol.
“So far, so good, as far as guys are taking it seriously. They’re not going out to bars at night, not doing stupid things. That’s all you can ask of your teammates, is to be there and be healthy. I obviously haven’t seen anybody from any other organization, but the Reds are really drilling into us about protocol, protocol, protocol.”
Schebler said he always assumed there would be a season at some point, even with the extended and contentious bickering between MLB owners and the players union over just how to have one. His opinion is baseball had way too much to lose if it ended up scrapping things, including fans who simply would not return to the sport.
The 29-year-old outfielder had a 30-home run season for the Reds in 2017 but injured his shoulder trying to make a catch in the outfield in an August 2018 game that has sabotaged his career. He hit poorly in 30 games for Cincinnati last season, got sent back to Triple-A and ended up having surgery.
He’s a long shot to be part of Cincy’s 30-man roster, and he knows it.
“You’re battling every year,” he said. “Is it different for me this year? Absolutely. I have obviously put myself in a bad spot by having a terrible year last year and being injured and trying to play through injuries and all that stuff. That’s in the past now. Every year you’ve got to got to come in and perform. That never changes. Even when I knew I was going to be part of the team, you’ve still got to perform. It’s our job to perform.
“The biggest thing for me is probably the opportunities for me won’t be as lush as they used to be, so I’ve got to take advantage of whatever opportunities I get. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I wish I had a crystal ball, so I could tell, but I really don’t know.”
The one thing he does know is he won’t be spitting when he’s on the field. That is one of the things on the safety protocol that has been forbidden.
Imagine that, baseball with no one hocking a loogie.
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“No chewing gum, no blowing bubbles,” Schebler said ”The no-spitting part, as baseball guys (is tough). You swallow a bug, you’d better eat it because you’re not spitting it out.”
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