How are the Royals running a baseball club amid coronavirus concerns?

Tribune Content Agency

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Typically, “preparing for anything” in the context of sports means injuries, trades, suspensions and under-performance. Global pandemics aren’t usually usually high on the list of worries for an organization like the Kansas City Royals.

But America’s sports landscape has entered an unprecedented time.

Their response to the COVID-19 coronavirus manifests in multiple ways, including adjustments on the business operations side of the club and participation in the local community’s response efforts. On top of that, baseball folks in the Royals’ front office must maintain some level of normal daily operations.

For general manager Dayton Moore and his top lieutenants, the past two weeks have been an exercise in refining their methods of communication, both among staff and with players, and relying on technology and innovation more than ever.

“I feel we’re doing what is necessary and what’s important — that’s first and foremost. Following the directive and the guidelines that our health officials and government leaders have laid out for us and doing our best to model that behavior,” Moore told The Star. “That’s the most important thing, putting baseball in its proper context.

“From a baseball standpoint, I’m extremely proud of our leadership and what our guys have been doing from our sports performance people, you know, Austin Driggers and his department, (assistant GM/amateur scouting) Lonnie Goldberg and (assistant GM/research & development) Dr. (Daniel) Mack and what they’re doing to continue to research players for this year’s draft and next year’s draft, what J.J. Picollo and our player development people have been able to do.”

Kansas City went under a stay-at-home order last Tuesday, but the organization had announced its employees would work from home for now the previous week.

The Royals also pulled their scouts off the road two weeks ago. All levels of amateur baseball are at a standstill domestically.

As of Friday, the Royals did not have a staff member, player or family member of a player in the organization who’d reported contracting the virus. Moore said he was “thankful” for that fact, and said head trainer Nick Kenney and the team’s medical staff continually monitors the players’ health.

Members of the Royals’ major-league coaching staff have returned to their homes to be with their families. They stay in contact with players who’ve retreated to their separate corners, while manager Mike Matheny and Moore touch base via phone every other day or so.

For the front office staffers, an average of three to four conference calls and video-conferencing meetings have dominated the daily schedule. On Thursday, Moore even did a conference call with season ticket-holders. He was joined by broadcaster RyanLefebvre.

The club’s performance science and strength and conditioning staffs gave players workout plans to maintain their fitness while many went their separate ways.

“It’s a very unnatural time for all of us in baseball,” Moore said. “We continue to do the things we’ve been doing from a mental health standpoint. (Director of behavioral science) Ryan Maid and his group have continued to work. There’s a lot of good work taking place. Things don’t stop. They don’t shut down.

“We’re obviously not on the field. But as each day passes that we’re not playing baseball, we become more appreciative of the game and that heartbeat is stronger to pursue the game and keeps us looking forward to that opportunity when we can play the game again. It’s going to be that much more meaningful when we step back on the field.”


While the Royals’ Surprise, Arizona, facility initially remained open for players on the 40-man roster and minor-league players who couldn’t get home, it’s now available only on a limited basis.

Arizona does not have the same stay-at-home or shelter-in-place restrictions as Kansas City. Five minor-leaguers who are rehabbing injuries and minor-league rehab coordinator/physical therapist Justin Hahn are the only ones allowed to be there now.

Forty-nine players were still regularly around the premises as of last week, some daily and some two or three times per week, Moore said.

Major-league players who lease residences or reside in Arizona, and minor-league players who couldn’t make it home, particularly those from Venezuela, still use the conditioning field and batting cages and throw side sessions at the facility. They shuffle through in groups of four or fewer.

Before the facility went into shutdown mode, including the clubhouse and weight room, major-league strength and conditioning coach Ryan Stoneberg spent a day showing those players how to train effectively with the equipment available, including medicine balls.

And now, the Royals’ daily conference calls aren’t exclusive to the front office and coaches.

Once the minor-league baseball seasons start back up, the Royals will have more than 200 guys playing for affiliates in Nebraska, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Idaho, North Carolina and Arizona, as well as their Dominican Republic Academy.

For now, those players are training on their own.

“We’re putting things together for our players to keep them engaged, but also it’s a way for us to have a better understanding of what each kid is dealing with,” Picollo said. “There’s such a wide variety. Some kids really haven’t been interrupted with their workouts, whether it’s a home gym or a throwing partner.”

Picollo, who oversees the player-development side of the Royals’ baseball operations, participated in a Zoom call with a group of pitchers Friday, a test run to see what the response would be like from the players.

“It’s been interesting, a different way of teaching and a different way of learning,” Picollo said.

The club plans to do even more through its various web portals starting this week, including optional webinars on nutrition, pitch grips and the use of Edgertronic cameras. They’ve even set up online quizzes for players on game situations.

The player development staff has already implemented new ways of remaining in contact with players on a regular basis. For instance, they have a call list through which each player is contacted by a staff member at least once a week. There’s also mass communication through email, text messages and WhatsApp.

In formulating a plan to keep in contact with players, Picollo said he pulled from his own son’s experiences — he’s one of the countless college students who’ve been forced to take classes remotely. Picollo said he’s also leaned on members of the front office who’ve had online elements to their education.

“Actually, I think we’ll end up with better processes for our offseason communication,” Picollo said.


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