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Washington Nationals’ Sean Doolittle on issues with testing early in ST 2.0; idea of allowing fans back into stands + more...

Sean Doolittle has opinions, and he’s not afraid to share them. Strap in...

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Nationals’ reliever Sean Doolittle’s wife Eireann Dolan has health issues she has discussed publicly, which put her at a higher risk for infection, which had the veteran questioning whether or not he would be playing baseball in 2020, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Ultimately he decided to give it a go, traveling back to Washington, D.C. in time for the start of Spring Training 2.0 this past Wednesday and the first workouts Friday in Nationals Park.

What he has seen so far of the protocols the club has set up to try to keep all the players safe during the coronavirus pandemic?

“I don’t know, so far, we’re only, what, three days into this?” Doolittle asked rhetorically in a Zoom call with reporters on Sunday.

“So far our staff, our medical staff, has been doing an incredible job. I think it’s running as smoothly as it can at this point.”

He still, however, hasn’t decided one way or another if he’s going to follow through with playing the 60-game campaign.

“Like a lot of players, the opt-out provisions aren’t great. They aren’t great,” Doolittle said.

“There [are] a lot of players right now that are trying to make decisions that might be participating in camp that aren’t 100% comfortable with where things are at right now.

“And that’s kind of where I am. I think I’m planning on playing, but if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health, with all these things that we have to worry about and just kind of this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything ... then I’ll opt out.

“For now I’ve prepared for the last three months like I’m going to play. I feel ready to go, but as I sit here talking to you guys — hold on let me check something...”

At that point, Doolittle, who wore a mask through the interview, pulled out his phone to check something, scrolling quickly as he looked for some piece of information.

“Yeah, as I sit here talking to you guys, I still don’t have my test results from Friday’s test,” he said, when he didn’t find what he was looking for on his phone.

“So, like, I got tested again this morning without knowing the results of my test from Friday, so... we’ve got to clean that up, right? So, that’s one thing that makes me a little nervous.”

And rightfully so, considering all the positive tests among players we’ve seen so far, from some of those who’ve decided to participate, not to mention those who opted out, deciding for their own reasons that playing this season wasn’t worth the risk.

After initial testing before arriving at their respective ballparks, players are supposed to be tested, “... every other day throughout Spring Training, the 2020 championship season, and (as applicable) the postseason,” as MLB laid out their plan for coronavirus testing this year. So what was the hold-up in this situation?

“Wednesday was intake,” Doolittle explained, “and then starting Friday was the beginning of our every-other-day testing, so we’ve got to clean that up.

“Even the intake tests, there were clubs that couldn’t work out as a team on Friday because they were still waiting for their results. We got our results at like 3:00 in the morning. So we all just kind of set our alarms and then we all got our notification when we woke up and we were like, ‘Oh, okay, we do have practice.’

“But we went to sleep that night, on Thursday night, not knowing if we were going to have practice the next day, because we didn’t know if our results would be in on time.

“There were a few teams that their results didn’t come back, and so they lost a day, and when Spring Training is only three weeks long, you got to have those days.

“You need every day to try to get ready for the season. As the season moves forward, as we continue Spring Training, especially once we start traveling, those results got to be back.

“That’s one of the biggest things, that there were a lot of guys that were on the fence, that decided to try to play to see how this was going to go because we were going to have our results within 48 hours. So, hopefully that’s something that we can address and improve moving forward.”

There are also other issues that need to be addressed, quickly, as Doolittle pointed out later in the interview.

“They still haven’t sent us the PPE. We’re supposed to have N-95 masks. Stuff like that,” he said. “Gowns, gloves. We’re supposed to have that stuff. We don’t have that stuff.

“And those are things it’s going to take for people to stay safe enough for us to continue the season.”

The whole process, the months off, the health and safety protocols, it’s all a lot. And it’s all on top of trying to get ready to play 60 games in a 66-day sprint.

“It’s been really weird,” Doolittle acknowledged, after as he mentioned, just three days of the new normal in baseball. “And that’s like one thing, I touched on it earlier, but like, my mental health is something that I’m really going to have to stay on top of. I can already tell this is going to be a grind mentally, and I might go crazy before anything else. Just with this, like I said, there’s this cloud of uncertainty. There’s this kind of — you’re always kind of waiting for more bad news. Like every time I get a text message or something on my phone throughout the day, I’m worried that it’s either going be some kind of bad news, like somebody in the league tested positive, or somebody opted out or so-and-so broke protocol and there’s pictures of people going out on social media when they shouldn’t be. Like, there’s all these things. And, then, just the regular procedures of the day. It’s a lot. It’s very, very different. And unfortunately there’s not a long period of adjustments and there’s not a lot of room for error. So, I don’t know. I don’t know.”

As of now, the plan is to conduct the 2020 campaign in empty stadiums, though the talk of allowing fans back into the park has already come up, even after it was a contentious part of negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association as they tried to come to an agreement on how to handle salaries, the schedule, and every other aspect of their attempts to carry out a season amidst an ongoing pandemic.

What did Doolittle think when he heard the talk of having fans in the stands come up again?

“Can you tell I’m smiling under my mask?” Doolittle asked. “You know what, I’m going to dance around that question a little bit, just because there are a still a lot of moving pieces behind the scenes. I don’t think any of us were necessarily surprised by that.

“But I do think it does like bring to mind kind of where we’re at in our response to this as a country. We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people. We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March, when we shut this thing down. And like, look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back.

“Sports are like the reward of a functioning society. And we’re just trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve, whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it. If there aren’t sports it’s gonna be because people are not wearing masks because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public, like if they want to watch baseball, please wear masks. Social distance. Keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months we’re over it.’ ‘This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’

“No. There’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back. And now you want to bring fans back? I mean, I don’t know. Is that safe? I’m not a public health expert, but we should probably defer to them on some of these issues, so I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s safe or not, I really don’t know. But like, that doesn’t seem like something that — I don’t know if that feels like a good idea or not, I really don’t know.”