July 10-- CHICAGO-When Major League Baseball wrote an early draft of its return plan, one of the health and safety protocols stated "showering in club facilities should be discouraged."
In other words, wait until you go home, like you did after a Little League game.
Of all the sacrifices players were asked to make amid the COVID-19 pandemic, eschewing a shower had to be the most difficult to contemplate.
No spitting? Players eventually would get used to it.
Players and coaches not allowed to touch another person's equipment? No problem.
Lockers 6 feet apart? Most stars ask for an empty locker between them and the next player anyway.
But no showers? Might as well cancel the season.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and shower heads eventually were back in action. When the final rules were agreed upon between MLB and the players union, showering at the ballpark was allowed as long as it was conducted in a safe and orderly manner.
The new rules state showering is "discouraged but not prohibited," and include limits on the number of players or staff showering at the same time. They also call for the use of water-resistant curtains or partitions and removing every other shower head to promote physical distancing, while asking individuals to wear "sandals or other appropriate footwear" and use their own personalized toiletries, including "shampoo and body wash."
So on another hot and steamy summer day in Chicago, I asked Cubs manager David Ross about the shower situation at Wrigley Field. My concern was for the players, knowing how important a shower or three is to their daily routine.
After briefly pausing to wonder why someone actually was asking him about showering, Ross replied: "We've got showers spread out. We're using (them), kind of splitting off one at a time here. We've got multiple areas to shower. The staffing has their own their own locker room that has a couple showers. They're using the manager's office. We spread out, and some of the coaches will come in and shower at times.
"And then you've got the players' locker room and the players' showers that have curtains and separation ... just like they do (in) the dugout. And everything else its spaced out, and we adhere to protocol.
"So, yes, we shower here. Thanks, Paul."
Phew. And I mean that literally.
In my 32 years of covering baseball in Chicago, I've come to learn that showering is easily one of the favorite nonplaying activities of a ballplayer at work, perhaps behind only eating and scratching themselves.
Some players come to the park and immediately shower. Maybe they like to sleep in, or perhaps the water flow is better at Wrigley. I've never bothered to ask.
After a nice, hot shower, they go work out or practice and then they shower again. And after they play the game, of course they take one more shower before either going home or to their hotel room, or on to their charter flight to the next city.
That's a lot of showers during a baseball season. Even if the showers last only 10 minutes, that could add up to a half-hour of showering a day for some of your squeakier, cleaner athletes. Nothing is more important than showering, so I'm happy they don't have to go all day without one.
In case you were not informed, the media no longer is allowed to interview players face-to-face, at least at the outset of the shortened season, because of MLB's health and safety protocols in the midst of the pandemic. That means almost all of our questions are asked over video conferencing, and it's the biggest change in our jobs.
Players generally are more open and honest when talking one-on-one at their lockers. And because we all have the same access, the stories you'll be reading the rest of the season might be similar to other outlets because we all have the same quotes to work with.
That's bad news for the media and for players who want people to know their personalities. But mostly it's a shame for baseball fans who like to read about the game.
The only upside for reporters is we no longer have to go through the storied tradition of waiting by lockers for players to show up after their showers. I would guess I've spent about five years of my life just waiting on players-and perhaps an entire year of waiting on Sammy Sosa alone.
Oftentimes reporters hope certain players don't do anything heroic because we know their habits of taking long showers means we'll probably miss our deadlines if we have to interview them.
But a shower also can be a bonding place for players. Sometimes we can hear them singing or cursing or conversing loudly with teammates. If they've had a very bad game, they sometimes stand under a shower forever to avoid our inevitable grilling.
There have been some memorable shower-related incidents in baseball lore, including the time former Texas Rangers pitcher Roger Moret threw his uniform in the garbage and stood in front of his locker in a catatonic trance with a shower shoe in his right hand. During a Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field in April 2006, the hot water in the visiting clubhouse was all used up after five minutes, forcing Cardinals players to shower in the cold.
Center fielder Jim Edmonds called Wrigley "a complete Class A experience," and he wasn't really wrong.
Anyway, I'm happy MLB relaxed its original plans for a shower-free clubhouse. The idea of a player having to go home to shower was ludicrous to begin with, not to mention hygienically unsound.
It brought to mind the famous quote from former pitcher Carlos Zambrano:
And let's face it, there's nothing worse than a Cubs team that stinks.
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