By Joe Pantorno
The time is finally upon Luis Rojas to physically get in the clubhouse and manage the New York Mets after an exceptionally long offseason.
The 16-year employee of the franchise who worked his way up the ranks was rewarded with the manager’s role after the unceremonious — and premature — ending to the three-month-long Carlos Beltran era.
After his name was specifically mentioned in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s report about the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017, Beltran and the Mets parted ways after he was hired in November.
That’s how long this offseason has been due to the coronavirus pandemic that halted baseball operations in mid-March.
On top of the challenges that come with leading a promising roster to the next step of contention after narrowly missing the playoffs last year, Rojas will have to find a way to keep his players and staff members safe amidst a pandemic that is spiking in many corners of the country.
A majority of players and coaches have reported to Citi Field for the start of summer camp on July 1, which leads to a July 23 or 24 Opening Day, but hitting coach Chili Davis is working remotely, Rojas confirmed.
Davis currently lives in Arizona, which is experiencing a sizable COVID-19 spike. He may still be able to get to Queens and work hands-on with the team by Opening Day given how the virus plays out in the southwest.
For those who will be at Citi Field on Friday, Rojas revealed that he will hold three separate training sessions throughout the day. Staggering the groups in such a manner will ensure that a limited number of players will be working out together at one time. There will be an emphasis on simulated games from early on as the Mets prepare for the spring that is the 60-game 2020 regular season.
Rojas joked that he has “a few more gray hairs,” coming up with such a system. Under normal circumstances during spring training, the Mets’ team facilities in Florida have six or seven fields to spread the players out rather than just the one the team is working with at Citi Field.
But the move was a necessary one considering Florida’s coronavirus numbers continue to skyrocket. On Thursday, the state reported a record-breaking 10,000 new positive cases of coronavirus.
While that could cause problems for the returning NBA and MLS, who are playing exclusively in isolated sites within Florida, the Mets will have to travel to the state to face the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays during MLB’s condensed 60-game 2020 season.
Rojas isn’t worried about that too much for now, though, as he’s focusing his sights on baseball.
“Its a challenge and it will be a learning experience,” he said. “I am getting educated. I’m thankful. I am open to continuing to get educated.”
“We have to overcommunicate, just to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, what their role is, how things are, and what to expect.”