MLB has started their season* for 2020 in the midst of the greatest and most devastating global pandemic of our lifetimes, and we are just barely through the very first series for all the clubs. While the Cubs have remained relatively healthy thus far (never mind their performance for now), other clubs haven’t been as fortunate. Take, for example, a team from a state with, let’s just say, questionable leadership:
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Mike Moustakas has been scratched due to unclear symptoms. This of course is due to an appropriate overabundance of caution, but you can assume that teams and staff would find these occasional (for now) symptoms or positive tests worrisome. For the Florida teams, playing in a pandemic hotbed means they have the potential to get the illness themselves and spread it to the other eight non-Florida teams in the East divisions. For the Reds, having even an inkling of a positive hit will risk their division rivals in both leagues to some extent, including the Cubs.
I did watch the Cubs play on Saturday on FOX Sports, and the bad announcing and virtual fans aside, I wasn’t too thrilled with the players congregating on the mound during mound visits in closer than comfortable proximity without masks. Despite expanded dugout space spilling into where fans normally would sit, the players and staff in the dugouts seemed remarkably close to each other, and many of them did not wear masks either. Professional athletes are obviously in much better shape than most of us, but they are not invincible. One would hope that they would take this more seriously while not on the actual field of play, but I guess old habits die hard.
After Friday’s victory, which was exciting mostly for Kyle Hendricks tossing a complete game shutout, the post game celebration line featured many high fives (no!) and a hug or two (no no no!) when social distancing was supposed to be paramount. In the batter’s box area, while the home plate umpire appeared to always be masked, the catcher on either side chose not to wear one, and the batters mostly played unmasked as well. The botched rundown on Saturday featured multiple players and Lorenzo Cain traversing the same path and probably coming into contact with each other’s exhalations. I, like many other baseball fans, am excited that baseball is back, but I also wonder how long this will last given all these happenings that don’t even account for everything that might increase transmission risk among the 15 games in progress on any given day.
There is also ambiguity about testing due to potential false positives (such as what happened recently with the Nationals’ Juan Soto, hopefully he does test negative subsequently) and we also don’t know what individual players might do once they leave the park. I have no idea what MLB is willing to do, despite what they laid out prior to the restart, in the event of an outbreak. A significant enough spread could cripple an entire divisional bubble, and worse yet, risk the health and safety of the players we enjoy. And I have serious doubts that a sport operated like an industry hell bent on making whatever money they can will truly prioritize safety over profit now that the ball has begun rolling.
Perhaps this represents an overreaction on my part and others. But after 150,000 deaths and counting, I’m wondering if I was justified in thinking that a restart wasn’t really worth it. I hope everyone can stay mostly safe and healthy and the season can be completed before the teams run out of players to draw from in their pools.