Forgetting whatever other barnacle issues have latched themselves onto the issue of masks, let’s be perfectly honest about something: They aren’t the most comfortable thing to get used to. That’s not political. That’s not controversial. That’s just how it is.
If you wear glasses, they help fog those glasses up, constantly. On hot and humid days, they can turn any form of exertion a little extra tricky — and, yes, those of you (those of us) who occasionally slip noses over the top of masks, you’re (we’re) not fooling anyone.
(Although, if we’re being honest, stealing a few uncovered and unfiltered nostril breaths when you’re safely removed from anyone has to have moved all the way to the top of the list of top guilty pleasures for the summer of 2020).
Which brings us to Clint Frazier.
Now, if we are being charitable, the best way to describe Frazier’s 123-game tour across three years with the Yankees is this: He is not boring. He has big-time bat speed … and sometimes looks like he’s playing the outfield for the very first time. He’s been moody. He’s battled more injuries than a 25-year-old ever should, specifically a concussion that took a huge bite out of 2018. Cracking the lineup has been tough, staying there even tougher.
You might, occasionally, have had reason to take issue with his maturity.
Except since the Yankees have opened spring training 2.0, there is one player who has spent every second of his time on the Yankee Stadium field bemasked. Protocols require them in the dugout, in the clubhouse. But players are free to play their positions in the field maskless. They are free to take their outdoor hacks — in the cage or during practice games — without them.
Frazier keeps it on. All the time.
“I think,” he said Sunday, “it’s an easy task to do.”
It is certainly a profoundly responsible path to take, and maybe not one you’d have forecast from Frazier, who has shown a propensity for marching to his own drummer. He’s actually doing that here, too, just not in the way anyone might have expected.
“There are two [other] people in the [batter’s] box with me,” Frazier said, addressing the one constant 800-pound elephant that will exist on every pitch of the season since it is impossible for the hitter, catcher and umpire to do anything remotely approximating social distancing, the one place on the field where such a pile-up is likely (other than three fielders converging on a pop fly).
“I’m just overall trying to do the best part I can do to make sure I’m being responsible, not only for myself but for everyone else I’m coming in contact with.”
It is a fine credo, in every way, and it isn’t easy — especially when he wears the larger, thicker mask at the plate as opposed to the standard one he wears in the field. Frazier flailed at a Gerrit Cole slider in his first at-bat during Sunday’s intrasquad game, a task that is mostly fruitless for right-handed hitters no matter what equipment they choose, but the mask certainly doesn’t help much. Running bases, playing the outfield — Frazier intends to keep the mask on even when the game start and when those are part of his job description, too.
“We have a big platform,” Frazier said, “and the Yankees make that platform two times as big. There are a lot of people watching. I want to keep my health in mind, and keep others in mind, too.”
It will be interesting to see if Frazier can keep to that intent — and if others choose to join him in what is a 100 percent noble gesture. Not everyone has jumped in because baseball can be hard enough without adding a few extra degrees of difficulty.
“All we can do is do our part,” said Brett Gardner, who has been careful to keep himself masked everywhere that’s required but hasn’t worn one during games yet. “We need to be as smart as possible.”
And for baseball players, who are the ultimate creatures of habit and routine, adding something new to the mix isn’t always easy. Yankees manager Aaron Boone admitted that a couple of times he’s caught himself leaving rooms without the mask and had to sprint back to grab it.
“As time goes on I think we’re all getting better and better at being really vigilant,” Boone said. “And you hope you just won’t have to think about it at some point.”
Frazier isn’t looking to set anyone else’s agenda, he’s simply doing his part. But in a baseball season so different than any that came before that might actually be the most essential team-first act a player could perform.
“It’s a survival of the fittest, everyone trying not to get the virus,” he said. “Whoever has the most people standing at the end — they’ll probably be the team with the best chance.”