Try­ing to keep it clean

Giants’, A’s coro­n­avirus cops un­der im­mense pres­sure

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - ANN KILLION

Quick: What’s the most im­por­tant po­si­tion on a base­ball team?

Catcher? Closer? DH? Ivy League stats guy crunch­ing num­bers? All wrong. The most im­por­tant po­si­tion on any team right now is the ICPC.

What? Haven’t heard of it? Well, that might be be­cause the job didn’t ex­ist un­til a few weeks ago, when it was cre­ated as part of the ex­ten­sive pro­to­cols for this bizarre 2020 base­ball sea­son.

But now, in the sea­son of coro­n­avirus, the In­fec­tion Con­trol Preven­tion Co­or­di­na­tor could be the key to get­ting this short­ened sea­son off the ground and to hav­ing it con­tinue with any sem­blance of smooth­ness.

“It’s a huge job,” A’s gen­eral man­ager David Forst said.

The A’s ap­pointed Tony Leo, who has nine years of ex­pe­ri­ence as an ath­letic trainer with the Min­nesota Twins. A new­comer to Oak­land, he was sup­posed to be with the Triple­a team in Las Ve­gas and was ac­tu­ally fur­loughed when he was tapped for the crit­i­cal po­si­tion.

Forst thinks it will work to Leo’s ad­van­tage that he’s new to the team.

“The great­est epi­demi­ol­o­gists in the world can’t fig­ure this out. Yet this is fall­ing on an as­sis­tant trainer.”

Stan Conte, for­mer head trainer for both the Giants and the Dodgers

“He has a lit­tle bit of an out­sider pres­ence,” Forst said, “which will be help­ful be­cause he has to play the au­thor­i­tar­ian role.”

The Giants picked L.J. Petra, an as­sis­tant ath­letic trainer who had been in the or­ga­ni­za­tion for 12 years. He pre­vi­ously served as the mi­nor­league med­i­cal co­or­di­na­tor, a role that show­cased his or­ga­ni­za­tion and at­ten­tion to de­tail.

“We know how im­por­tant this per­son is go­ing to be,” said Giants head ath­letic trainer Dave Groeschner.

Both men, nei­ther of whom was made avail­able to in­ter­view for this story, will work closely with the ex­ist­ing team train­ing and med­i­cal staff.

The de­scrip­tors “huge” and “im­por­tant” might be un­der­state­ments for this new po­si­tion. The job de­scrip­tion, as laid out in “At­tach­ment 2” near the end of the 113­page “2020 Op­er­a­tions Man­ual” for base­ball’s new pro­to­col, is daunt­ing.

Re­quired to be hired from ex­ist­ing staff, the job calls for “an ef­fec­tive and em­pow­ered” in­di­vid­ual who will mon­i­tor and en­force com­pli­ance with MLB in­fec­tion­con­trol pro­to­cols. The 10 bul­let­point job de­scrip­tion in­cludes: de­vel­op­ing a re­port­ing sys­tem for non­com­pli­ance, in­ves­ti­gat­ing and cor­rect­ing non­com­pli­ance, reg­u­lar meet­ings with play­ers and staff, de­vel­op­ing and ex­e­cut­ing train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, mon­i­tor­ing reg­u­lar clean­ing and dis­in­fect­ing of fa­cil­i­ties, con­firm­ing avail­abil­ity of clean­ing sup­plies and PPE and serv­ing as a re­source for all in­di­vid­u­als.

The job re­quire­ments rec­om­mend ex­pe­ri­ence in health care and “cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in in­fec­tion con­trol and epi­demi­ol­ogy.”

“I don’t think any team in the league has a per­son that cov­ers all those things,” Groeschner said. “A lot of this is learn­ing on the fly and con­tin­u­ing to learn. The league is help­ing and is pro­vid­ing a lot of re­sources. But hav­ing one per­son in house that knows all that stuff ? Those peo­ple don’t re­ally ex­ist.”

Stan Conte, for­mer head trainer for both the Giants and the Dodgers, read the job de­scrip­tion of the ICPC — “Some­one must have had some good Scotch when they came up with that name,” he cracked — and all the ac­com­pa­ny­ing pro­to­cols that MLB de­vised. He has some se­ri­ous con­cerns. Although the pro­to­cols check all the boxes on how to deal with the coro­n­avirus, tick­ing off points on a doc­u­ment and ex­e­cut­ing them in real life are two dif­fer­ent things.

“I think MLB re­ally tried,” said Conte, who re­tired from the Dodgers in 2016, af­ter 25 sea­sons in the ma­jor leagues, and later worked as a con­sul­tant to base­ball. “But it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to do what they’re ask­ing.

“The great­est epi­demi­ol­o­gists in the world can’t fig­ure this out. Yet this is fall­ing on an as­sis­tant trainer. There’s a lot of vari­abil­ity in re­gard to the ed­u­ca­tion peo­ple in those jobs have. You’re ask­ing this per­son for a lot, with hardly any time.”

Conte is con­cerned how the pro­to­cols will be en­forced not only in a team’s home ball­park, but at a team’s satel­lite fa­cil­ity and also on the road, once games be­gin. Vis­it­ing club­houses tend to be small and cramped. Af­ter a few weeks of be­ing dili­gent, play­ers might re­vert to old habits.

If the test­ing sys­tem breaks down, as it al­ready has, what then? What hap­pens if a player, who al­ready has trav­eled on a plane and through a ho­tel lobby with all his team­mates, be­comes un­well?

“You’ll be in the dark with no flash­light,” Conte said. “I think there are too many holes, and I don’t think they can plug them.”

Conte isn’t sure how, if play­ers re­vert to be­hav­ior deemed un­safe, the ICPC will be able to con­trol non­com­pli­ance. He thinks some at­risk peo­ple will be un­will­ing to share their med­i­cal his­tory for fear of be­ing side­lined. He won­ders what will hap­pen if a star player has a slight fever on the day of a big game. Will the staff be will­ing to over­look a red flag?

We know, as does Conte from his years of ex­pe­ri­ence, that type of thing hap­pens all the time when it comes to in­juries. Why wouldn’t the same pres­sures be in play with the coro­n­avirus?

The ICPC is ex­pected to be the en­forcer. Which also can mean the ICPC could end up be­ing the scape­goat if some­thing goes wrong. Those kinds of de­tails, of course, are not in­cluded in the 2020 Oper­a­tion Man­ual.

“This per­son is go­ing to be un­der in­cred­i­ble pres­sure, 24­7,” Conte said.

He would like to see base­ball pull this off. But the man who spent a quar­ter cen­tury in ma­jor­league club­houses and train­ing rooms is skep­ti­cal.

“This is fan­ta­sy­land,” Conte said. “They’re try­ing to do the right thing, but it’s an im­pos­si­ble task. And the blame will go down­stream.”

Likely to the ICPC, the most im­por­tant po­si­tion in base­ball.

Gabrielle Lurie / The Chron­i­cle

The Giants go through a re­cent work­out at Or­a­cle Park. They will have to an­swer to as­sis­tant trainer L.J. Petra on mat­ters of pan­demic pro­to­col.

Lea Suzuki / The Chron­i­cle

Tyler Heine­man (left) el­bow bumps in­stead of high­fiv­ing and is wear­ing a mask as a way to pre­vent get­ting the coro­n­avirus.

A’s ICPC Tony Leo, left, and Giants coun­ter­part L.J. Petra are in charge of im­ple­ment­ing MLB’S coro­n­avirus pro­to­cols.

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