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Can Using Raiders' Locker Room Help Athletics Achieve Social Distancing at Coliseum?

Major League Baseball's new proposal for protecting players' health as the sport attempts to resume calls for social distancing in the clubhouses. Clubhouses aren't built for that, so teams will be looking for options.

The Raiders are gone from Oakland, never again to play at the Coliseum.

That may prove to be to the Oakland Athletics benefit as the A’s and Major League Baseball attempt to get baseball up and running in 2020.

The season will be cut in about half, with the current proposal calling for an 82-game season, and then only if a way can be found for players and staff to stay healthy in this age of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Toward that end, the powers that be at MLB put together a 67-page guide to best health practices should the season resume. The players received it over the weekend and will have to approve it in a vote for the plan to go forward.

One of the advisories reads “Lockers should be six feet apart. If not possible, clubs should erect temporary clubhouse facilities in unused stadium space, preferably outdoors or in areas with increased ventilation.”

That seems to have been written by person or persons with minimal clubhouse exposure, and it’s good to remember that these are preliminary suggestions and are subject to change.

Clubhouses are crowded places under the best of times. Home clubhouses can provide a little space in newer facilities, but not in an older place like Fenway Park for the Red Sox, Wrigley Field for the Cubs and the Oakland Coliseum for the A’s.

And even in the newer facilities, visiting clubhouses are mostly afterthoughts, tiny to the point of insignificance in the overall footprint of the stadium. The visiting clubhouse in Oracle Park, home of the Giants, is absurdly tiny.

What can the A’s do? Well, up a flight of about 15 stairs just outside the door to the home clubhouse is the locker room formerly used by the Raiders. Now NFL teams have roughly twice as many players as MLB teams, so that should work as a substitute, right?

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Well, not really. For one thing, MLB rosters used to be 25 players. It was going to go to 26 this season, but the new rules are calling for 30-man rosters. The Raider clubhouse has 59 usable lockers, it’s true, but they are crammed side-by-side. Even by using every second locker, there will be some areas where adjacent lockers have to be used. And keeping players six feet apart won’t be doable.

And that’s particularly true for what is being called Spring Training II. There is some talk that teams will have that second session in their home parks, and if that’s the case, there are 50 players to be accommodated, not 30.

Perhaps once the season starts and the roster is down to 30, the A’s could split the roster, put the pitchers in one clubhouse and the position players in the other. The hitters might be best served by having the hitters in the old Raiders’ clubhouse, because it’s situated adjacent to the batting cages.

As for the Coliseum’s visiting clubhouse, there’s nowhere else to go. The A’s would probably have to import portable lockers and plant them in the middle of an already very limited clubhouse space.

The suggestion that the teams take advantage of “unused stadium space” is a non-starter. Most stadiums don’t have auxiliary rooms. Three or four decades ago, for example, the A’s has the ability to use the exhibition area between the Arena and the Coliseum. But over the years it’s been converted into kitchens, offices and … the Raider locker room. That space is gone, never to return.

The game has changed, and stadiums have had to change with it. Across baseball, wherever possible space has had to be created for meeting rooms, video rooms and drug testing rooms.

The ballparks weren’t built with social distancing in mind. Converting them to accommodate social distancing is going to be a major challenge. And some compromises are likely to be part of the package.

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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