Cubs

Cubs, MLB's best efforts can't prevent coronavirus crisis in opening week

/ by Gordon Wittenmyer
Presented By Cubs Insiders
Cubs

So much for everyone’s best efforts to pull off a major league baseball season.

This protocol-heavy effort to play 60 games and an expanded October postseason was never about the hits, runs and errors of a dulcet-toned, summertime American pastime.

Errors, maybe, and American, yes — but only in relation to the massive, destructive impact COVID-19 continues to wreak on a country that has been unable and (in some places) unwilling to take unified action against a deadly pandemic.

The point is this was never a baseball season. It always was a coronavirus season. It had to be.

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And if we didn’t know that much Sunday, we awoke to it Monday with the news of the first major team outbreak and postponement of games — just four days into the season.

At least 11 Marlins players and two coaches reportedly tested positive for the virus while on their season-opening trip to Philadelphia, prompting two games to be postponed Monday (including the Phillies-Yankees game), the Marlins to reschedule their home-opening series and MLB officials to scramble to limit the spread and save a short season.

Cubs union rep Ian Happ said player reps from across the league were in contact Monday with the union for updates. He said he has heard no discussion about a contingency play for continuing the MLB season if a team is not able to keep playing.

In a best-case scenario, the league can avoid enough health-risk land mines this week and keep running, at least until the next inevitable outbreak. The nightmare scenario, of course, is that enough exposure and spread already has occurred to shut down the league by the end of the week.

 

“It is dangerous, and we all knew when we said, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’ we all knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said veteran Reds reliever Pedro Strop, the former Cub. “We just need to stick to the process and keep fighting and keep being careful.”

Strop said he remained optimistic that MLB can finish the season even as he spoke the day after the Reds put a second player in as many days on the injured list for COVID-related reasons and a third Cincinnati players’ status remains uncertain.

“People pretend to know what’s going on with COVID, but I personally don’t think that we know exactly what it is,” said Strop, who added he takes extra precautions personally to stay in as often as possible and remain safe.

“It’s just weird,” he said. “This guy [tests] positive and doesn’t have any issue at all, no symptoms, nothing, and then there’s people that get really sick. It’s something that we don’t know. We just need to pray and keep battling.”

And still play baseball? Is that even smart?

Is that even right?

As baseball — and the rest of sports — continue to persist into their pandemic seasons, it’s hard not to keep hearing as though on an earworm loop the prominent voice from Washington early this month.

“Sports are the reward of a functioning society.”

That was Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, and it resonates perhaps even more now than it did on July 5 when he said it.

This virus always was bigger than Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, the Cubs’ and Yankees’ World Series chances, even the $10.7-billion sport itself.

For those involved in these efforts to look at it any other way assured failure.

As Cubs president Theo Epstein said on the eve of the season, “The virus is still obviously in control.”

And yet precautions as simple as wearing a mask inexplicably have become controversial even as hot spots surge from Florida to Georgia to Texas to California — and as the national death toll from this virus nears 150,000 in five months.

“We’re way worse off as a country than we were in March when we shut this thing down,” Doolittle said on July 5 of conditions that have only worsened since. “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.”

As the very moment MLB struggled with outbreaks in its first weekend of games, fans were allowed back into stadiums for professional baseball games in South Korea. Europe’s Premier League just completed its 2020 soccer season the same weekend.

By all accounts, MLB and its players have done no less a responsible job than those other leagues in developing safe practices and protocols.

 

The Cubs, for instance, defied the odds to become the only MLB team without a player testing positive since the intake process began a month ago.

Pitcher Tyler Chatwood said he trusted his team’s planning and his teammates’ approach to safety protocols that he turned down the offer to skip this week’s trip to Cincinnati so he could spend time with his team — even if much of that time will be spent individually in hotel rooms.

RELATED: How Cubs prepared for coronavirus entering first 2020 road trip

“Hopefully, they’ve got some good movies in the rooms at the hotel,” he said.

Catcher Willson Contreras said he tries not to focus on the testing and the risk. But he also isn’t leaving anything to chance.

“I know we’re going to a different city,” he said. “We have to make sure we bring everything to clean our rooms. I bought sheets, I bought my own towels, I’m bringing some Lysol, because you don’t know where you’re going.

“We have to find a way to feel sort of comfortable,” he added, “to make that room like a second home. You have to read a book or something.”

The Cubs’ results — and the results of most teams — suggest sincere, disciplined efforts to make this season happen.

But it’s hard not to get burned trying to travel from one end of a forest fire to the other for two months, no matter how many fire extinguishers you pack.

And that’s why this will never be a baseball season, no matter how long it lasts — never about Dodgers vs. Giants, Cubs vs. Cardinals or hitters vs. pitchers.

There’s only one opponent. And it already has jumped out to a big lead.

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