After the Yankees clinched a spot in the playoffs in September, they gathered in the lobby of their hotel in Buffalo, N.Y., in masks and then removed them for a brief toast of Champagne.
After the Tampa Bay Rays won the American League East crown a few days later, they congregated outside Citi Field and two outfielders, Brett Phillips and Randy Arozarena, held the first of their multiple dance-offs this fall. Weeks later, they held a second one near the visitor’s dugout of Petco Park in San Diego after winning their A.L. division series.
After the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves to advance to their third World Series in four years, third baseman Justin Turner said a group of his teammates met in one of the outdoor spaces they were allowed to use at their quarantine hotel and reminisced about the series and its standout moments.
But there, as at almost every other notable milestone during this pandemic postseason, something was missing.
“I’ll tell you what, man,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino after Tampa Bay beat the Houston Astros to reach the World Series, “there’s nothing better than popping bottles and wearing some goggles and it still seeping through there and burning the eyes.”
So much about the 2020 season has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic, including how teams can party. Breaking with longstanding baseball tradition, milestones that for years were accompanied by raucous and sudsy revelry, by clubhouses swathed in plastic sheeting and sprays of beer and Champagne and over-the-top celebrations, have been more muted this October than in the past.
Because of the strict health and safety guidelines for the season, which include strict rules on limiting time indoors and social distancing, Major League Baseball told its teams they “must avoid any unsound conduct." Team employees can face discipline if they do not comply, a league official said.
So out went the usual Champagne and beer showers and in came the silly string, confetti and dancing. Drinking is still allowed — without spraying — but players are now more likely to settle into a chair with a beer than pound five of them at once.
“The Champagne stuff is always fun and it’s a cool baseball thing,” Dodgers outfielder A.J. Pollock said. “Do I miss it? Yeah, a little bit. Is it going to make it less special? Absolutely not.
“We’re all enjoying each other. We’re all celebrating each other in just different ways. That ring is the ultimate goal, and that’s kind of all the motivation you need.”
Added Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe: “The Champagne burn is definitely something that can’t be replaced. I didn’t think I’d miss it after last year” — when the Rays lost to Houston in the divisional round — “but it’s definitely something that is missed. Right now, it’s an adjustment to what 2020 is. We’ve found our ways to enjoy it.”
The Rays certainly have. After fans loved social media videos of their first dance-off, Arozarena and Phillips did it again after they bested the Yankees. Arozarena, who watches dancing and music videos in his spare time, beat Phillips in their rematch by busting out some surprising break-dancing moves, including what he considered a clinching headspin.
“I had that one saved for a big moment,” Arozarena said recently in Spanish. “I was losing so I thought, ‘I have to use this move or I’ll lose again.’”
But after the Rays topped the Astros in the A.L. Championship Series, their celebration was quieter, at least publicly. They didn’t hold a dance-off or drink and smoke cigars in the dugout or taunt their beaten opponents with music from a portable speaker the way they did when they played the Yankee Stadium staple, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” after defeating the Yankees.
Instead, they hugged, received their World Series hats and T-shirts on the field and posed for photos before moving their merriment out of sight. When a Rays player later emerged from the dugout with a beer and headed toward where some families were waiting near the third base line, an official stopped him and directed him to leave the drink behind. He did, walked out toward the families and shot off some confetti in front of them.
Alcohol is allowed in the postseason but, according to M.L.B., only in designated areas and in limited quantities. Most players said they were fine with the restrictions.
“Doesn’t matter if it’s Champagne or water,” Arozarena said. “Reaching the World Series is the most important, and we did it.”
For those who have longed for the customary and, um, more festive celebrations, though, a reprieve may be on the way. Zunino said he had been told that the team that won the World Series — which was tied at one game apiece between the Rays and Dodgers entering Friday — would be allowed to pop bottles and feel the eye burn again.
According to an M.L.B. official, a traditional Champagne celebration is indeed the plan.