NEW YORK – Clint Frazier is tinkering with his approach at the plate.
Nope. We're not talking about a swing change or shift in his batting stance.
The 25-year-old outfielder has been experimenting with different models of face masks over the course of Yankees' Summer Camp, testing out which feels the most comfortable as he digs into the box, looking for a pitch to drive.
Just as Frazier hopes to do each time he strokes a baseball deep into the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, donning a facial covering sets an example for those watching and is destined to help his team win.
As the Yankees forge through its second week of workouts since baseball's return from MLB's coronavirus-induced hiatus, it's been borderline impossible for the organization to distance itself from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three players (and counting, potentially) have already tested positive for the virus that kept baseball dormant for nearly four months – the same pandemic that's impacting the lives of millions across the country.
To follow the club's coronavirus regulations, masks are mandated in the clubhouse and at any point off the field at Yankee Stadium. It's an adjustment that countless players have singled out as the biggest challenge of today's unprecedented climate at the ballpark.
Through just over a week of Summer Camp, however, Frazier has been the lone ballplayer in pinstripes to consistently wear a mask on the field.
At the plate as he faces his teammates in intrasquads, in the outfield while shagging in batting practice, even while running sprints and doing lateral movement drills, Frazier has pledged to keep a mask on at all times. His plan is to use a mask once the regular season begins as well.
"If there is somebody out there that sees me wearing the mask, maybe they'll do it as well," Frazier said. "It's just it's an easy thing to do. It doesn't bother me at all. I mean, at first it was a little weird, but I feel like it's something that's just became second nature at this point."
Frazier didn't specify if he was striving to set an example for his teammates and other ballplayers across the league or for the fans watching at home. The fact of the matter is that even during a baseball game, he believes he could be at risk to exposure from the virus – first and foremost due to a lack of social distancing.
"I wanted to try [wearing a mask] in the game because, you know, there are two people in the box with me and they are close in proximity," Frazier said, alluding to the opposing club's backstop and the home plate umpire.
Even in the outfield, standing exponentially further than six feet from any other individual, Frazier believes he and his teammates are still at risk, bound to come in contact with the same baseball that several others have touched.
"The way that I've looked at it in batting practices, the ball was still being touched by multiple people and the ball will still have been touched by the pitcher and could have been touched by an umpire throwing it back to the pitcher," he explained. "It's just a lot of people touching the same baseball and I'm just trying to make sure that I and the people around me stay safe."
Frazier's teammates and coaches have taken notice of his admirable pledge. Right-hander Mike King called the outfielder's initiative "unselfish," explaining just how tough it is to wear a mask during a game. King says he puts his on immediately when he gets back to the dugout while he feels comfortable mask-less on the mound.
Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee hasn't considered using a mask in a game yet, but assured he's been as respectful and cautious once he steps off the field. After all, there's been "concern" since Aroldis Chapman's positive diagnosis, a test result that came after days working out in the same venue as his teammates.
Frazier's skipper Aaron Boone compared baseball practice to building a habit of keeping a mask on. He hopes his ball club can eventually "instinctively" adhere to protocols without constantly needing a reminder.
"Anyone that feels they can go out and perform with that mask is a great thing and something we’re certainly going to support," Boone said. "We all have a responsibility in this and in a lot of ways it’s a learning experience every single day.
That said, Frazier's personal mask-wearing policy does have its stipulations.
"Obviously if for some reason I can't play my game the way that I want to, and I feel like it's getting in the way, then maybe I'll take it off," he said, emphasizing that 2020 is a "big year" for him and he wants to perform at a high level which starts with staying on the field.
New York isn't the only team to be impacted directly by the coronavirus this summer. Positive cases have popped up across the league, sometimes with the game's biggest starts, influencing a slew of ballplayers to enact their own mask pledges and some veterans opt out of the season all together. Issues in MLB's testing process have also been a cause for concern, begging the question of whether or not the 2020 season has been doomed from the start.
Frazier's mission isn't to convince all players to cover up on the diamond. He simply doesn't want to be the reason the virus spreads to those close to him, including his teammates.
New York already has a handful of key contributors that in all likelihood won't be available come Opening Day because of COVID-19. Frazier wants nothing more than to help his team get through the season, as the club that stays the healthiest might be the last one standing in October.
"It's like survival of the fittest out here," he said. "Try not to get the virus, obviously trying to stay healthy and whatever team has the most people standing at the end is going to win possibly."
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