No spitting will be another strange part of Giants' 2020 MLB season

·6 min read

On the first day of Summer Camp, the Giants tried to keep things as normal as possible. They had masks on and were practicing proper distancing, but the workouts generally looked the same. Brandon Crawford played catch with Brandon Belt as he has for nearly a decade. He took grounders a few yards away from Evan Longoria. When the fielding and hitting drills were done, the three veterans finished their work on the field with a familiar part of spring training, running sprints along the edge of the infield dirt. 

That's when the realities of baseball in 2020 really set in. Some of the new rules aren't so easy to follow when you're finishing up a long day under the summer sun.

"When you're running and moving out on the field you get used to having that saliva in your mouth and being able to spit it out," Crawford said later on a Zoom call with reporters. "That's something you can't do anymore. After we were running, that's something that me, Longo and Belt were talking about, how we all kind of wanted to, but we had to hold back. That's definitely something that's different."

The 2020 baseball season, being played without fans and under strict safety guidelines, will look different and sound different on TV and at the park. For the men between the lines, well, it may also taste different. 

This is a sport with a serious oral fixation, one that becomes part of daily life over decades of taking the field, from tee-ball to the majors. Every little league dugout is filled with seeds and chewing gum, and a big league dugout is just a much more advanced and dirtier version. The dugout floor after games is filthy, covered in spit, dip seeds, gum wrappers and unidentified liquids.

MLB has tried to limit the visibility of smokeless tobacco in recent years, but this season's rulebook goes much further. Players are allowed to chew gum, but they are prohibited from spitting, using smokeless tobacco, and chewing sunflower seeds at all times while in the ballpark. The rules call for "behavioral modifications," a fancy way of summing up "don't spit, try not to touch your face, don't lick your fingers, and avoid wiping sweat away with your hands if you can."

Some of these habits will be easier to break than others.

"The spitting is going to be tough," right-hander Jeff Samardzija said. "When you're working out and you're athletic, everyone knows there's a film that builds up in your mouth."

The Giants have had 18 days to start breaking these habits, and while there aren't cameras zoomed in on the action, they generally seem to have done a good job of adjusting. Manager Gabe Kapler said he's happy with the buy-in he has seen, and most players are wearing masks around the field, which limits some of those inclinations. 

The Giants have adjusted as they've gone along, learning new hygiene rules just as they would signs from their third base coach. One of the younger Giants laughed as he left the park after the first workout and said he hadn't showered because he didn't realize you have to bring your own soap this season since wall dispensers in the showers are banned. MLB's original proposal to players had called for limiting showers at the park, period, but the players pushed back and the final version says that showering at the park is "discouraged but not prohibited." Some players have taken that extra step, though. 

"I haven't been showering at the field, which is gross, but only one time have I done that when I had to do something immediately after," Hunter Pence said. 

Pence lives a scooter ride from the ballpark and most players are spending the season at a hotel a five-minute walk away, but perhaps sacrificing those comforts at the park will become harder when workouts turn into intense games. For pitchers, in particular, there will be an adjustment period. They're used to licking their fingers to get a better grip, but this season MLB has asked that they take a wet rag to the mound to provide moisture. Only water may be used, and "umpires will have the right to check the rag at any point."

So yes, you might at some point this season see a manager step out of the dugout and ask the home plate umpire to go and examine the rag hanging from the opposing pitchers back pocket. But probably not when a Giant is pitching. 

Tyler Anderson said he's not a huge moisture guy and actually has done the opposite in the past. He went to college in Oregon, where it rained so much during games that pitchers would carry a dry towel to the mound. Logan Webb didn't find out about the rag idea until the final days of camp. "I'm more of a rosin guy anyway," he said. 

Samardzija, the veteran who has seen every trick in the book, said it'll be hard for some guys to get used to going to their back pocket instead of their fingers, because for so many years pitchers have learned that anything in your pocket is potentially nefarious. But perhaps the water-soaked rag won't be that big a part of the game in 2020.

"Water doesn't really help anyways," he said, laughing. 

It didn't appear that anybody went to the back pocket during Monday's exhibition game against the A's, but the dress rehearsal did give players a reminder of some parts of the game that will be strange this year. Starter Kevin Gausman noted that the weirdest part was watching infielders momentarily question what to do when there was an out at first, since they no longer are throwing the ball around the horn. He also noticed that pitchers are still getting used to the moments after a strikeout. Normally the ball would be whipped around the infield with the pitcher taking a moment to step off and clear his thoughts or take a quick walk around the mound, but now the ball is coming right back to the pitcher. 

"It's little things like that. You don't really think of them," he said. "You see guys strike someone out and start to walk away and they realize the catcher is going to throw the ball back."

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Samardzija said he was confident players would adjust because it's what's best for their games, noting that the faster you can accustom yourself to new guidelines, the more you're able to concentrate on what you're trying to do on the mound or at the plate. Plus, he said, players will realize that this is all being done for the right reasons. There's a reason spitting was singled out. MLB is trying to limit air droplets, which are considered to be the easiest way to spread the coronavirus. 

"We're not doing it for any other reason other than just to keep everybody safe out there," Samardzija said. "When you look at it that way, it makes it a little easier to fix some things."

No spitting will be another strange part of Giants' 2020 MLB season originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area