Royals apprehensive about playing in Toronto

Friday, April 25th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Clearly concerned by the SARS outbreak in Toronto, the Kansas City Royals packed bottles of disinfectant and embarked on an unsettling trip.

``I'm worried a little bit, yeah. I've got a family,'' outfielder Raul Ibanez said. ``You try to take every precaution you can. If they say it's safe for us to go, I suppose it is. But I'm still going to take every precaution.''

The apprehensive Royals traveled to Toronto on Thursday night to begin a three-game series Friday against the Blue Jays. The Royals planned to stick close to their hotel when they're not at the ballpark.

They will be the first club to visit the city since baseball became concerned enough about the SARS outbreak there to issue precautions to teams.

But the games will go on as scheduled.

``We have a lot of concerns, but we also don't want to overreact,'' commissioner Bud Selig said.

``We are very sensitive and I am very concerned, but at this point our own doctors are telling us not to do anything differently,'' Selig told a group of Associated Press Sports Editors. ``The advice we're getting internally is to proceed. Proceed with caution, but proceed.''

The Blue Jays begin a nine-game homestand, and some Kansas City players wondered why the games were not simply moved to the homes of the visiting teams.

``I wouldn't mind that, to be honest with you,'' Ibanez said. ``But if they're saying it's safe and the doctors are saying it's semi-safe if we take the precautions, I guess it will be OK. But I'm not thrilled about it.''

Outside of Asia, Canada has been the country most affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has killed 16 people in the Toronto area.

Baseball's medical adviser, Dr. Elliot Pellman, held a conference call Thursday with clubs that are part of the upcoming homestand to advise them on how to avoid SARS.

``The recommendations that Dr. Pellman made were pretty straightforward and had to do with hygiene, primarily _ eating utensils, hand-washing, that kind of thing,'' said Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office.

Pellman advised players to be cautious about personal hygiene and avoid public places where many people are packed closely together.

``He wasn't referring to shopping centers, he wasn't referring to airports, he wasn't referring to baseball stadiums,'' Alderson said.

Kansas City trainer Nick Swartz took part in the call and prepared written instructions for players in both English and Spanish.

Before Thursday night's 2-1 victory over Minnesota, several Royals passed around bottles of disinfectant.

``I'm a little worried. But what can you do?'' rookie pitcher Mike MacDougal said. ``We bought some disinfectant. They were passing it around. We'll have some in the rooms.''

Pellman said Wednesday that if players want to sign autographs, they should use their own pens.

``The emphasis today is on personal hygiene and not a concern about public facilities or public places,'' Alderson said.

Asked if it was safe for fans to attend the game in Toronto's SkyDome, Alderson said: ``I think it would be proper to say that the risk is so remote that the best medical advice is that the games should go forward.''

Selig said he spoke to Paul Godfrey, president and CEO of the Blue Jays, who has complained that the SARS scare is hurting ticket sales.

``Paul Godfrey has said over and over that he thinks we're overreacting,'' Selig said. ``I watched the mayor of Toronto today who's outraged at the coverage. ... On the other hand, we've all talked to not only our own medical people but other doctors. We're going to monitor the situation very closely.''

Godfrey said Thursday that he would promptly call for the cancellation of games at SkyDome if SARS posed a threat to players, fans or staff.

``You'll recall, two years ago when there was a complication with the roof at SkyDome we canceled a game, even though at the time engineers assured us there was only a remote threat to the safety of our ballplayers and guests,'' Godfrey said in a statement.

The World Health Organization has warned travelers to avoid Toronto because of SARS _ a decision that the Canadian federal government has asked the organization to rescind.