Having spent the past week failing to answer how they expect anyone to believe they have a chance to pull off a baseball season during a pandemic, MLB officials are forcing hundreds of players to keep asking their own shared question: “Why the hell am I doing this?”
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant on Monday said he “absolutely” considered opting out of playing after his wife gave birth in April to their first child and then watching the spread of COVID-19 accelerate across his native Nevada and baseball-centric states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.
“I still think that runs through a lot of people’s minds today,” Bryant said.
Concerns haven’t been eased by lags and deficiencies in coronavirus testing during the first week of training camps. MLB was forced to release a statement Monday promising improvement after players throughout baseball raised the issue with media in recent days.
That included closer Sean Doolittle of the defending-champion Nationals citing a lack of masks and other protective gear with his team and Bryant saying he didn’t feel safe after seeing the promises of every-other-day testing already being broken by the team.
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Bryant, who wears a mask even at times while practicing on the field, said he went from having an intake test on June 27 to his second test on Sunday.
“Then you don’t get the results for two days, so that’s nine days without knowing,” he said. “I wanted to play this year because I felt that it would be safe, and I would feel comfortable. But, honestly, I don’t feel that way."
Bryant’s voice is especially significant on the topic — and not only as a star player and former union representative.
His voice is coming out of a camp that has had no delays or cancelations of work over testing or safety issues — the only team in at least the National League without a positive COVID-19 test among its players.
In other words: The Cubs’ former MVP and three-time All-Star doesn’t feel “safe” in the team environment that by definition is the safest in the league (so far).
If Cubs players and staff are seeing problems that raise concerns, what does that mean for the rest of baseball, where players have tested positive and others have opted out?
What does that say about even the slim chances baseball had at the outset of even starting a season — never mind finishing one?
“Guys are doing a great job,” Ross said three days into training camp — offering an understated “bothered” to describe Monday his emotional state when talking to league officials about his team’s testing concerns.
“We’re doing everything possible. But for sure, there’s a lot of pause around the league, and rightfully so.”
Just on Monday:
— The Astros and Nationals canceled practices over safety issues, and the Oakland A’s have yet to hold a full-squad workout because of testing deficiencies.
— Braves outfielder Nick Markakis, citing the frightening symptoms of stricken teammate Freddie Freeman, became the ninth player known to have opted out of the 2020 season.
—The Rangers reported that slugger Joey Gallo, whose father was a baseball-school partner of Bryant’s father in Las Vegas, has tested positive for the virus (asymptomatic as of Monday) — joining dozens of known COVID-19 cases among MLB players.
Perhaps ironically, Monday also was the day MLB officially released the schedule for the shortened season, to begin in less than three weeks.
MORE: 2020 Cubs schedule starts vs. Brewers, ends at White Sox
“It’s not guaranteed that we’re going to play or finish a season,” Bryant said. “Everybody involved knows that and is aware of that.”
And with every day that includes news of PPE shortages, positive test results or descriptions of Freeman’s “chills and fever,” every player in the game will be forced to ask the same question every time he looks in the mirror in the morning — and then takes his temperature to find out if he qualifies to even go to the ballpark.
Since he made his original decision to play, Bryant so far remains firm in his resolve to stand by that decision and “do everything I can to be safe and healthy and lead by example and encourage people to do the right thing,” he said.
“I know I have a lot to worry about, and I still worry about going home and bringing it to my wife my newborn,” said Bryant, who brought his family to Chicago with him. “That’s scary to me.”
Scary? Ask the Phillies, who had at least 12 players and staff test positive before anyone headed to Philadelphia for camp. And ask the Braves, who have lost at least four players early to positive tests, and a fifth player and a coach (Eric Young Sr.) to opt-outs — in a city where the mayor just reported Monday night that she had tested positive for the virus.
And then ask, again, why?
Maybe MLB can get its act together before a wave of opt-outs remove more players from the 2020 season than the virus itself, said Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr., who did not bring his wife and small kids to Chicago.
“That will probably bring down the barriers for the guys that are uneasy and uncomfortable,” he said, “But, yeah, it sucks. There’s no other way to put it.”
Angels star Mike Trout has expressed reservations about playing with his wife due next month, and Bryant noted Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has a newborn at home.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if people like that decide to sit out, and rightfully so,” Bryant said, “because there’s a lot more to living than playing a game.”
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