Just when the Marlins and Cardinals seem to have withstood massive, early team outbreaks of positive COVID-19 tests, the National League Central is bracing for another potential outbreak after a Reds player learned Friday night he had tested positive — two games into a series against the Pirates.
It’s still barely three weeks into a nine-week season during a deadly pandemic, and Major League Baseball could be on the brink of yet another significant threat to this 60-game long shot.
At least one key player for the Cubs seems to be losing patience with persistent concerns about the season, if not the persistence of an easily spread virus that has infected more than 5 million Americans in five months.
“This season’s getting played,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Saturday. “That’s our mindset. That’s our mentality.”
As much as he and the rest of the Cubs have done — they’re the only team without a player testing positive since the intake process began in June — that only goes so far in a 30-team, 28-city league, even with more restricted travel within 10-team regions.
“Just button up, button everything up,” Rizzo said. “Be as safe as possible, and that’s what guys have been doing. And we’ve been doing a good job. It’s very unfortunate for the Reds to have that. It’s scary, the unknown. And the Cardinals, with their schedule coming up, it’s tough.”
The Cardinals on Saturday just played their first games since July 29.
“But it’s six more weeks of a sprint,” Rizzo said, “and tomorrow we’ll be ready to play.”
Rizzo has expressed as much concern and gravity regarding the virus as anyone in the game, going back to the early days of national concern in March.
But he doesn’t know anymore than his dog Kevin whether the virus will allow the baseball season to continue to its conclusion — never mind the various local and state authorities across the major-league map that already have travel restrictions and mandatory mask and quarantine orders in place.
“We’re just trying to block it out and take care of our business,” Cubs outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said barely an hour after hitting an eighth-inning homer in a 10-inning loss to the Brewers.
While nobody has been proven to be more effective than the Cubs at setting up in-house protocols and abiding by them, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of teams in the league also have navigated the COVID-19 minefield to maintain a functioning team roughly one-third of the way into the season.
That’s at least impressive, if not astonishing.
But the news out of Cincinnati was just another reminder that — as Cubs president Theo Epstein said at the outset — “the virus is in control.”
“You just hope it’s not an entire team again,” Souza said.
Souza, whose sister-in-law is a nurse on the COVID-19 frontlines in Arizona, tweeted at players across the league July 31 as MLB’s second outbreak shut down the Cardinals: “Every player in this league better take a hard look at what you’re doing off the field, because what you do affects more than just you and your team. Your decisions off the field will put all of our seasons in jeopardy this year.”
If we’ve learned anything since then, it’s that most in baseball are abiding by that mindset. And also that it’s sometimes not enough and that at least some players — such as Cleveland pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger — still don’t get it.
“We care about those guys’ safety over there, as a fraternity in baseball,” Souza said of the Reds, whose games against the Pirates Saturday and Sunday were postponed. “We don’t know what’s going on in that clubhouse or what they’re doing. Sometimes you can do everything right, and still this thing can happen.
“You just hope it doesn’t take down a whole ‘nother team. I think as long as whole teams aren’t falling apart then we’ll be able to finish this thing in the end.”