Mask In Dugout Doesn't Suit Gardenhire: 'More Difficult For Me'

But right now, this is the reality of baseball. 

Will Burchfield
July 09, 2020 - 12:36 pm
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Per Major League Baseball rules, Ron Gardenhire wore a mask in the dugout for the Tigers' first intrasquad game of Summer Camp Wednesday. This is where it left him Thursday morning:

"I just had a long conversation with one of my bosses about wearing that mask in the dugout during a game," Gardenhire told the Jamie and Stoney Show. "That’s really hard. You’re so used to doing it one way. But we’re all trying to ad-lib and do what they want us to do and stay safe. That’s the most important thing." 

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Gardenhire knew this was a possibility when baseball announced its return-to-play plan, and he knew it'd be 'different.' He probably didn't think it would pose such a problem. He's concerned it will undermine communication in the dugout, which -- in theory -- could impact the outcome of a game. All coaches must wear masks, too.  

And while masks are fairly common in baseball during cold-weather games, it's harder to warm to the idea in the middle of summer. 

"It’s also 90-something degrees, they got me in a mask in the dugout. That’s a big difference," Gardenhire said. "When it’s cold I don’t mind wearing that thing, but when it’s hot it’s not that easy to do. The conversations you have in the dugout are different and I don’t want someone saying, ‘What, what?' and I have to take my mask off every time. So those are the conversations I’m going to be having, trying to figure this thing out and making sure we can do the right thing.

"Again, it’s all about safety, and the protocol is we’re supposed to wear a mask. I’ll have more and more conversations because if we’re going to play baseball, let us play baseball and do it as safe as we possibly can. A mask in the dugout is a little bit more difficult for me." 

Should Tigers Make Hard Call With Gardenhire And Coaching Staff?

From a tactical standpoint, there's a possibility -- albeit a small one -- that a conversation in the dugout can't be relayed quickly enough to the field. Maybe that means the outfielders don't shift correctly. Maybe that means a fly ball turns into a double. Maybe. Dugout banter also happens to be one of Gardenhire's favorite aspects of baseball, so he's not probably not too keen on being stifled. 

But for now, this is the reality of baseball. And it's worth noting that Gardenhire, who turns 63 in October, leads one of the oldest coaching staffs in the league. Pitching coach Rick Anderson is 63, bench coach Lloyd McClendon is 61 and hitting coach Joe Vavra is 60. Only two other teams have that many coaches who are 60 or above. For the Tigers, the mask stipulation feels especially important.

General manager Al Avila announced Wednesday that the Tigers have had players and/or staff members test positive for COVID-19. Some have returned, others are still waiting to be cleared. So Gardenhire met with his players in the clubhouse -- in two different groups -- to reinforce the importance of making the right decisions away from the field. 

"Everybody’s concerned. We had meetings about how each and every player in this clubhouse -- and coach -- owes it to everybody (here) to be responsible when they leave the ballpark," Gardenhire said. "Taking care of themselves at night, going out and having dinner but doing it the proper ways, staying away from the bars and the discos. I said ‘the discos’ and I got ripped pretty good in the clubhouse, but that’s okay. I can handle that.

"I think everybody understood. You gotta take care of yourself, because this is our family right inside this clubhouse. Hopefully these guys are going to be responsible enough that they don’t go out and screw around and get sick and bring it back here. I think the message was clear. All those guys were (nodding) their heads."