What the Cubs' Summer Camp testing delays mean for the regular season

What the Cubs' Summer Camp testing delays mean for the regular season

A silhouette appeared at the top of a Wrigley Rooftops building beyond right field, backlit by the bright sky over Lake Michigan.

The Cubs players huddled up the third baseline Monday morning raised their hands and shouted. The figure acknowledged them and made his way down through the rooftop stadium seats, his dog by his side. It was Cubs manager David Ross.

“I got a nice seat over there," he said Tuesday, after returning to the team. "I got to watch the practice. The energy was good. I could hear the guys.”

Ross and five other Tier 1 individuals kept a safe distance from Wrigley Field on Monday, while waiting for COVID-19 test results. Despite frequent delays, Cubs leadership, from Ross to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to general manager Jed Hoyer, has expressed confidence that the testing process will only get smoother.

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On Tuesday Ross described Summer Camp as “a great testing time for them to iron some things out.”

He added: “We’re dealing with circumstances that have never been dealt with before.”

Since the clubs settled into an every-other-day testing schedule, the Cubs have pushed back workouts twice and were missing players once while waiting for test results. During that period, the team has been tested five times. Ross said he expects the results of the most recent tests, which the Cubs took Monday, by Tuesday night.

So, delays have become the norm in the first week and a half of Summer Camp. Is that what the Cubs can expect during the regular season?

“Every day there’s more and more improvements,” Ross said. “There’s another site opening up on the East Coast that should help put a lot from just sheerly the time zone constraints. … There’s going to be some adjustments to routing.”

On Monday, the issue arose from batch testing. By the afternoon, the Cubs had received the results of five of the pending tests – all negative, NBC Sports Chicago confirmed. The sixth case, which was not a player or Ross, required a new test. The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney first reported the test results.

Ross noted in a press release that “situations like this have not been a worrisome indicator of a positive test result to date,” but he and the other five affected individuals would not attend Monday’s workouts “out of an abundance of caution.”

He didn’t go far.

“It was miserable,” Ross said. “Your team’s here working and you want to be a part of it, and there’s no way around that.”

Missing six Tier 1 individuals for a morning workout: a minor inconvenience. But what will the league do if the same issue arises the day of a game, especially an afternoon game?

“You’re very, very rarely going to have an instance when five guys are hurt on the same day,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “So, when we get these pending test, that’s the unique part about this, is when are we going to get them back?

“If we had five pending tests and … one was a, let’s say, starting pitcher, one was your starting second baseman, one was your starting catcher, that’s a huge chunk of your team that day. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how the protocols come into place about those pending tests.

Ross said the league is still working to address those issues.



Cubs' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

Cubs' David Ross' plan for weekend off: watch baseball, hang out with his dog

The Cubs have a few unforeseen days off from playing after several new Cardinals tested positive for COVID-19 this week. 

With this weekend’s series in St. Louis postponed, the Cubs returned to Chicago, where they’ll remain until heading to Cleveland on Tuesday morning. They have a light workout scheduled for pitchers on Saturday and a simulated game scheduled on Sunday.

What will Cubs manager David Ross be doing otherwise with no games scheduled, though?

“Me personally, it’s just sitting on my couch with my dog and watching baseball and highlights and catching a game,” Ross said Saturday.

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Cleveland is coincidentally in town this weekend, facing the White Sox on the South Side. Ross has the opportunity to get an early look at the Indians ahead of their two-game series on Tuesday and Wednesday. They're playing on Sunday Night Baseball this week in place of the Cubs and Cardinals.

“We’ll definitely have baseball on, try to get a nice meal delivered and just hang out with myself. I’m pretty awesome by myself,” Ross said with a smile.


Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

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But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”