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Baseball’s back and it never felt so strange as players arrive at Dodger Stadium

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Dodgers players arrived in waves Friday, at assigned times, not allowed into Dodger Stadium a minute early or before getting their temperatures checked for the first day of training camp.

They took the field for familiar workouts as music reverberated through the vacant ballpark from speakers above the renovated section beyond the center field wall. Batting practice. Bullpen sessions. Fielding drills. Baseball was back and it never felt so strange.

The players, the ones allowed to participate in the workouts after Major League Baseball’s first round of COVID-19 testing for the 2020 season, were assigned to three groups spread throughout the day to avoid crowding. Manager Dave Roberts wore a mask on the field. Members of his coaching staff conducted drills with masks. At least one player, Brusdar Graterol, was masked during his workouts. Players entered and exited wearing masks, carrying brown bags of food they’re not allowed to eat with others in the clubhouse.

“It’s an adjustment, for sure,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “But it’s been fun. It’s been fun to see the guys. It’s been fun to come back to Dodger Stadium. I missed it. Missed being here.”

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Serving as another reminder of MLB’s attempt to stage a 60-game season during a global pandemic, Kershaw spoke to reporters on a Zoom call alone in the press conference room near the clubhouse. He arrived as part of the first group of players that included fellow pitchers Walker Buehler, Alex Wood and Ross Stripling. He threw a bullpen session. He is scheduled to pitch in a five-inning simulated game Monday.

Roberts said the Dodgers plan on playing instrasquad games early next week. They are scheduled to play three exhibition games against other teams during training camp in preparation for opening day less than three weeks away.

Dodgers president Stan Kasten said the club is scheduled to begin its season July 23, but declined to disclose the opponent or location. The Dodgers’ original opening day was slated for March 26 against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium.

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The new plan is contingent on the league avoiding a COVID-19 outbreak big enough to cancel the season before it starts. MLB announced Friday that 31 players and seven staff members tested positive for COVID-19 out of 3,185 samples collected as part of its intake screening. The positives were spread among 19 teams.

Dodgers general manager Andrew Friedman, left, and manager Dave Roberts talk during practice at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

At least four players have opted not to participate this season. Other players, including the Angels’ Mike Trout, voiced concerns and are contemplating whether to play. Some coaches considered at high risk will work remotely.

Kasten said the season will proceed as long as the league has “an acceptable level of incidents.” But he acknowledged the league has not established a threshold of acceptable and unacceptable.

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“I can’t give you a number,” Kasten said in a conference call Friday. “We’re going to have to play it by ear to see how it goes — not just with our team but with every team. And I suspect we are all going to be affected by anything bad that happens in any other city with any other team.”

The Dodgers are among the teams that have had players test positive. Roberts said players weren’t able to join the team to start training camp but he wasn’t allowed to disclose the reasons, the numbers or the players’ names — hinting that players tested positive. He added that no players have opted out.

Players will be tested every other day and have their temperatures checked multiple times a day. Strict measures to maximize social distancing and other precautions will be imposed at ballparks. But baseball’s 101-page operations manual doesn’t address behavior away from facilities other than advising players to be responsible and avoid unnecessary risk.

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“It’s on the players to some extent, too,” Kershaw said. “I think everybody knows that, though. I don’t know how much different guys have to harp on that because if you want to see the season through, if you want to play the season, if you want to give it its best shot, you can’t be stupid.”

For the Dodgers, avoiding the virus could be the difference in winning the World Series — if there’s a World Series.

The first day in that pursuit concluded with a group that included Justin Turner, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Max Muncy. They took turns taking cuts off a machine before a live batting practice session as shadows crept in. They joked and laughed. It even seemed somewhat normal.

Short hops

The Dodgers signed third-round draft pick Jake Vogel, an outfielder out of Huntington Beach High who was committed to UCLA, for $1,622,500. The slot value for his pick, 100th overall, was $581,600.

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The Dodgers now have approximately $1.6 million left in their bonus pool money to sign Texas Tech right-hander Clayton Beeter, their only remaining unsigned draft selection. Beeter was taken in the second round with the 66th overall pick.


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