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Posey on catcher’s conundrum: ‘Inherent risk’ of no social distance

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 7/9/2020 By John Shea

If the Giants’ season gets under way and Buster Posey decides not to opt out, he’ll be the only player on the field wearing a mask.

Not that kind of mask. Just a regular old catcher’s mask, which doesn’t exactly rate with the N95s when it comes to filtering out airborne particles.

Posey and every other catcher in the 30 teams’ player pools know all too well they play baseball’s most socially un-distanced position. And, therefore, baseball’s most hazardous position amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“To a certain extent, you have to trust some of the testing,” Posey said. “It’s not going to be bulletproof.”

Although outfielders can be hundreds of feet apart and infielders dozens of feet apart — not to mention the pitcher, all alone on his mound — the catcher is in a crouch and squeezed between the batter and umpire.

Forget 6 feet. In some cases, it’s barely 6 inches.

It’s a widespread concern for any catcher, whose so-called tools of ignorance (mask, chest protector and shin guards) might serve as protection for tricky one-hoppers or foul tips, but that’s about it.

During the pandemic, it’s vital to socially distance and wear masks, but dozens of batters will step into a box every game and focus more on making contact with a 98-mph fastball or 90-mph slider than being conscientious of protecting others nearby.

“I do know the staff has taken extreme measures to make sure guys are getting tested every other day,” said Posey, who missed Wednesday’s practice because of a personal issue. “I think you have to trust that to a certain extent and understand there are some inherent risks involved there.

“I don’t know what you would do from the catcher’s standpoint other than wear a mask (within the catcher’s mask) while you’re catching, and I’m not sure how realistic that is.”

Major League Baseball will permit any player — or coach or umpire — to wear a mask if desired. There are no requirements for now, but that could change. In fact, The Chronicle has learned MLB is examining the possibility of optional masks for catchers and umpires that would include face shields and eye protection.

A’s catcher Sean Murphy doesn’t see himself wearing a second mask on the field, saying, “A mask while catching in the summer might be tough, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that.”

Murphy, who has just 20 big-league games to his name, knows he’ll need to be careful behind the plate.

“Yeah,” he said, “I mean it’s just part of it. Make sure we disinfect things really well and just follow all the protocols, and that should work.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin, a big-league catcher for 10 seasons, said catchers are aware to distance as much as possible. “I don’t think there’s anything I could say to a catcher that would make him feel less or more comfortable. It’s just part of the job.”

Other positions can be risky, too. Consider two outfielders coming together on a flyball in the gap. Or a grounder up the middle with both the shortstop and second baseman in pursuit. Or a popup in which multiple infielders, the pitcher and catcher converge.

Playing right up against an opponent is a regular occurrence for a first baseman, who’s often stretching toward the plate on a bang-bang play when the batter is huffing, puffing and grunting up the line trying to beat the throw.

A bigger issue would come with a runner aboard. The first baseman will need to straddle the bag to hold the runner on, and they would come together on any pickoff throw from the pitcher.

“Obviously, we’re going to be pretty close over there,” Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said. “I try not to get in anybody’s face, anyway. We’re going to be close, but I’ll do my best to stay as far away from them as possible.”

Belt doesn’t mind a good conversation with the base runner, but he realizes that’s no longer a good idea.

“Probably a little less talking going on over there for me, which I probably shouldn’t do, anyway,” said Belt, who is out with a heel injury and will be re-evaluated in five to seven days. “Avoiding that face-to-face talking will help go a long way.”

Among the new rules in 2020 is no spitting, and every catcher and first baseman would appreciate that opponents honor the saliva ban. There’s also a ban on sunflower seeds and tobacco.

Bubble gum is allowed, but ballplayers spit. That’s what they do.

“It’s a bad habit, but a lot of us as baseball players are used to spitting,” Posey said. “I think that is going to be an issue. From what I heard, through water droplets and moisture is how this thing is spread.

“So there’s going to have to be an effort for us to try not to do that as well. Unfortunately, it’s second nature a lot of times.”

Chronicle staff writer Matt Kawahara contributed to this report.

John Shea covers the Giants for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jshea@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JohnSheaHey

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