Baseball is set to begin in a week. The reality of the situation isn’t lost on any of us. Back when shutdowns were shifting into gear in March, including all the sports leagues we love, the future looked uncertain – both the real-life implications, as well as the future of sports.
I was sitting on campus at the University of Tennessee listening to The Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN Radio. The NBA had suspended its season and college basketball conferences began cancelling tournaments. As I listened to the updates taking place around the sports world, I wondered what was going to happen next.
After all, I was still on campus. As I looked around, everything appeared normal. It was a sunny, warm day and the rest of the student population continued going about its business just as it had been throughout the semester. Even in the immediate aftermath, everything still seemed fairly normal.
Even to this day, many people aren’t taking the virus very seriously, opting for pseudo-science and Facebook memes over trained doctors and scientists.
In many ways, particularly here in the south, it’s almost as if nothing has changed at all. In fact, in many places, if you’re seen wearing a mask in public, you might well be ridiculed. The Tampa Bay Rays’ Kevan Smith called the odd looks and ridicule he sees and receives “comical.” A Rays’ teammate was even called a “pansy.”
With all that said, baseball is set to return soon. On its face, that’s exciting news. I’m ready to see baseball again, even without fans and under the strangest of circumstances.
But Andy McCullough at The Athletic reminds us that while baseball will serve as a distraction, it’s perhaps in that distraction that we’ll be reminded of what’s going on outside our front door. Sure, we’ll see baseball. But we’ll notice the empty stands, the artificial noise, the socially distanced players, and the masks. Through all that, we’re likely to be lured back into a state of anxiety a few times during a broadcast.
Baseball will be a welcome reprieve from reality. But it’s fleeting. I wonder whether or not we’re losing sight of everything outside of baseball. After all, we’ve been pushing to get baseball back without regard for what’s at stake for the players. I won’t evoke the sense of drama some have when they say things like “The players are putting their lives on the line.” But at the risk of drawing the ire of some, we may have overlooked the concessions the players have made to make this season work.
Of course, many baseball players are young, so they don’t necessarily have families that are at risk of infection or families that they’ll be pulled away from during a pandemic – but many do. Some of the Washington Nationals’ fit the bill in this regard. We know that Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross have both opted out of the 2020 season. In a team statement, it was revealed that both men were exercising their right to forego the season “for the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.”
If you recall, relief pitcher Sean Doolittle’s wife, Eireann Dolan, has a pre-existing condition which makes her more susceptible to the virus. During Spring Training, while many other leagues had halted play, MLB pressed on – if only for a little while. Prior to a game, she said, “I’m probably not supposed to say this, but people I beg of you please do not come to games right now… You’re putting yourselves, the staffs, and teams at risk. Please don’t go.”
According to The Washington Post, Daniel Hudson also experienced reservations about playing this season. Recently, Hudson’s third daughter was born, and it would make sense for him to want to protect the youngest members of his family, especially since it’s unknown what the long-term complications are for individuals who contract the virus. Ultimately, Hudson decided to play.
We know that players have the option of opting out, and it’s their prerogative whether or not they exercise that option. On social media, some keyboard warriors have even taken to criticizing players who choose to sit this season out. While many of aren’t as callous as those who anonymously post diatribes against players, is it possible we’re thinking too much about baseball returning independent of viral outcomes? I think so.
While sports return, the virus continues to run through the United States. Much of the rest of the world has figured out how to get the virus under control (mostly through social distancing and citizen compliance regarding mask wearing). In Japan, fans are being brought back to games.
At The Athletic, John Lott argued that baseball shouldn’t return in the United States, period – mostly because of the perceived infeasibility of the travel schedule since baseball is intent on playing in their home stadiums, unlike the NBA and NHL, which have implemented the use of “bubbles.”
The NBA is in the hotspot of Florida, but they’re self-contained and therefore shouldn’t have much influence from the outside world.
While I don’t agree that MLB should refrain from beginning the season, I think it’s unlikely they’re going to finish the season. The situation is evolving too much and it appears as though it’s not getting particularly better. While players will be under the strictest of implementable guidelines, some are bound to go about their lives as they wish. Even if they don’t, the workers necessary to make the baseball machine go aren’t under the same restrictions. It’s perfectly plausible that a stadium worker – like clubhouse security or a member of the grounds crew – will come in close enough proximity to a player and ultimately infect the player.
For the season to finish, it’s contingent on keeping player positives down, obviously, but that seems a Herculean task, especially by Major League Baseball, which has failed to show any signs of solid leadership recently. In addition to the challenge of preventing player infections, there have already been plenty of testing snafus in recent weeks.
I want baseball back. Most of us do. But we shouldn’t overlook the players, staffers, or stadium personnel in the crosshairs, nor should we overlook the obvious logistical hurdles of pulling off a season in which teams are traveling to multiple cities in the midst of a pandemic.