Major League Baseball is expected to begin the regular season next week. After the initial strangeness of returning to work in a pandemic, the Boston Red Sox have settled into a routine that almost seems normal.

At this point next week we’ll be talking about Opening Day and the American League East race. With that in mind, here are nine thoughts about the first full week of Red Sox Summer Camp.

Boston Red Sox batter Mitch Moreland, right, jokes with Red Sox coach and home plate umpire for the day Jason Varitek during an intrasquad game at Fenway Park on Thursday. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

• As we’ve said before, the Red Sox seemed to have pulled off one of the better sets of safety protocols in baseball. Players seem to be at ease with the systems in place, and workouts over the weekend started to feel routine. So different from what we thought might be the case a month or two ago.

“Massachusetts is a great place to be right now,” said outfielder Kevin Pillar.  “It seems like one of the safer places you could be.”

• Of course, all that can change quickly. We were reminded how fragile this return-to-work plan is on Saturday when the Houston Astros canceled team workouts for the second time in six days just before Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman tested positive for COVID-19.

Positive tests now are more concerning than the results of intake testing. A positive result from camp means the infected player has been working out with other players. The Yankees seemed to have dodged a bullet with Chapman, and reported no further positives. But you’d better believe teams are holding their breath whenever test results return.

• Players for multiple teams have said some version of the mantra “the team that stays healthiest has the best chance to win.” Several Red Sox players have uttered similar comments. That’s a good sign, because if players believe that they are far more likely to strictly follow protocols as the season begins.

• That said, the worry is that teams will become less diligent as they fall out of playoff contention. Hard to imagine a team that’s essentially eliminated from contention staying in strict isolation as the final weeks of this shortened season marches on. That’s why it would’ve been nice to see the playoff field expanded for this season. More teams in the hunt would lead to more players buying into the sacrifices they’ll have to make to stay healthy.

• While it was jarring at first, the experiment with piped-in crowd audio was a big hit with the Red Sox. The games played without the “crowd” were eerily quiet, and players admitted they could hear what other players on both teams were saying. Manager Ron Roenicke pointed out that it wasn’t just about the opponent hearing what you might say, but that he was leery of his pitcher hearing coaches debate whether he should be taken out of the game.

• The Red Sox are reportedly considering cardboard cutouts of fans to make the seats at Fenway look a little less empty. The idea is that you can have your likeness added to the imaginary crowd for a donation to the team’s charitable efforts. It’s a great idea that could raise funds for charities that desperately need it right now.

Jason Varitek, right, has been the star of the Red Sox camp in his role as the home plate umpire during intrasquad games at Fenway Park. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

• The MVP of Boston’s intrasquad scrimmage schedule so far has been Jason Varitek, who has been donning the blues and getting behind the plate to umpire in full uniform and gear. His emphatic strikeout call, with Tek pointing up to the skies, has been a huge hit.

• It is almost impossible to keep score in these games. Roenicke changes the lineup in some innings to get hitters up in certain situations, and innings end if a pitcher reaches a limit (without getting three outs). In several games the teams had only two outfielders in the field, with balls hit to the imaginary third outfielder called out.

The imaginary crowd went wild.

• The schedule makers didn’t do Boston many favors. They play seven of 10 games against the Yankees in New York, have several two-game series (so much for reducing travel) and will face some of the game’s best pitching during interleague play against the NL East.

The hope was the Red Sox might benefit from a shortened schedule, allowing them to work around a thin starting rotation. They’ll have to start hot and keep rolling through a 60-game-in-66-day stretch to do it.

Just completing that schedule, without any interruption from the coronavirus, would be a success in 2020.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


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