TAMPA, Fla. — The Yankees’ Player Development complex normally is a bustling center of activity throughout March, when approximately 175 players and staff members congregate there on multiple fields to prepare for the approaching Minor League season.
But when a 17-year-old Minor League pitcher in the Yankees’ organization tested positive for the coronavirus on March 15, becoming the first known case within the Major League Baseball universe, the club shifted into crisis mode. All of the club’s Minor Leaguers were instructed to self-quarantine in their apartments or hotels, with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman among the staff members personally delivering meals at various locations in the Tampa area.
“I can honestly say that this is going to stick in my mind forever,” infielder Josh Smith, the Yankees’ No. 18 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, told the New York Post. “Seeing Brian Cashman in flip-flops and gloves working his butt off to help the players shows true leadership. Along with Cashman, [senior director of player development] Kevin Reese and [director of player development] Eric Schmitt did the same each and every day when they could have been at home taking care of their families.
Our minor leaguers are staying strong in Tampa and we are continuing to provide assistance to them on a regular basis. pic.twitter.com/PZky7OPv6R
— NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) March 21, 2020
“You see them lead by example, and it shows how special this organization is. The respect I and teammates have earned [for] this organization over the past two weeks will sit with me forever. That’s what makes this organization different [from] most and why we will come out of this stronger than before.”
The players’ self-quarantine was lifted on Thursday. With the exception of a second player who tested positive on March 17 and who remains under self-quarantine for a few additional days, the Minor Leaguers are being encouraged to return to their homes, if possible.
Both of the players who tested positive for COVID-19 are said to have seen their situations resolve, and the team coordinated directly with the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Department of Health to follow best practices. Cashman, Reese, Schmitt and Yankees vice president of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer were instrumental in ensuring that the operation went smoothly.
Sr. Director of Player Dev. Kevin Reese, SVP & GM Brian Cashman, Director of Player Dev. Eric Schmitt & additional player dev. staffers continued to deliver food, water and supplies to Yankees minor leaguers as part of ongoing efforts to support these players during the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/G4v2IGdkqQ
— NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) March 18, 2020
During the self-quarantine, the Yankees issued each Minor Leaguer a stipend of $75 per day — a $50 increase over the normal daily rate — while also assuming the costs of their apartments or hotel rooms. Players were booked into four hotels in the general vicinity of the Himes Avenue complex, located about a mile from George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Players remained in regular contact with team officials via a Teamworks mobile app that Cashman and others used to send updates and information, including instructions on social distancing, workouts that the players could perform in their hotel rooms (squats, lunges and jumps were all suggested) and a guide that explained how to make hand sanitizer.
The self-quarantined players occupied their time by playing video games, watching movies and — in one instance — learning to play the ukulele.
“[The ukulele] was not as tough [to learn] as I thought it would be,” pitcher Jake Agnos told The New York Times. “I’m still not good — trust me — but it’s fun to watch YouTube videos on how to play a song and then get it.”
Steinbrenner Field and the Minor League complex have both undergone several rounds of cleaning at the direction of an outside firm. Steinbrenner Field remains open to players who are on the 40-man roster; those continuing to log workouts at the facility have included Mike Ford, Clint Frazier, DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton and Tyler Wade.
“One thing I have learned about this organization is that its leaders really care about the players,” Smith told the Post. “No matter who you are, they take care of you. Whenever we had questions, they would answer them as soon as possible and keep us updated any chance they could. The amount of times they went out of their way to help us can’t be forgotten. I knew the Yankees were first class, the best of the best, but this just proved that point even more.”