Cubs

Why Cubs' serious, effective approach in COVID-19 pandemic might not be enough

/ by Gordon Wittenmyer
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Giants catcher Buster Posey is a three-time champion, six-time All-Star and former National League MVP.

Is he a Hall of Famer? That’s the big question, right?

Not anymore. Not after Friday, when he officially opted out of playing baseball during a pandemic.

That changed the big Buster Posey question to whether he’s baseball’s smartest guy in the room.

On a day the Cubs delayed their workouts for the second time in a week over COVID-19 testing issues, Johns Hopkins University reported a single-day record of new coronavirus cases (more than 63,900) for the United States for the second consecutive day.

It’s two weeks until major league openers.

Posey, who expressed concern for the past week, was open about his decision, citing the risk when it came to the premature newborn twins he and his wife have adopted and who remain in a neonatal intensive care unit.

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He’s one of 11 players who have chosen not to play this season. Others such as superstar Mike Trout of the Angels — whose wife is due with their first child next month — continue to straddle the fence on whether to play.

And players such as Cubs star Kris Bryant expressed concern and anxiety over MLB’s first-week testing problems and at one point considered opting out before deciding to commit to trying to play.

MORE: Why Kris Bryant doesn't feel 'safe' and why his voice should matter most to MLB

 

“We’re taking every safeguard that we possibly can, and I’m proud of the way the players have been responding,” said Cubs president Theo Epstein, whose team is the only one, at least in the National League, without a positive test among players or coaches since intake testing began.

“But we can’t let our guard down, and we can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can control all the variables here.”

The variables, and certainly the risk, are constantly changing.

In Florida, one of the hardest hit states for coronavirus surges, Miami-Dade County reported an astounding 28-percent positive rate for its Friday test results — down from 33.5 percent Thursday.

That, of course, is the home of the Miami Marlins.

Two more of the hardest hit states across the sun belt, Texas (105) and California (149) reported one-day records for coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday.

They are home to seven more big-league teams, including Posey’s and Trout’s.

Again, it’s two weeks until major league openers — when teams leave their individual safe zones and start to travel.

Will Trout still want to play by then? Will Nationals closer Sean Doolittle? The Brewers’ Ryan Braun? Or anybody else who has dipped one toe into this experiment as they’ve talked publicly about their concerns and reservations?

And just how tight will MLB’s testing ship — and shipping of results — be by then?

The Cubs by all appearances are doing it right, from masks in the clubhouse and dugouts to social distancing and meetings among players to discuss being accountable to each other and staying out of bars and restaurants when they’re away from the field.

But what about the cluster of positives among the Phillies, or the startling virus rates in Arizona — or that one player in Cleveland who decided to party without a mask during the holiday weekend?

“That’s the reality of living in this country in 2020, is you’re never divorced from concern, no matter what you’re doing,” Epstein said. “Whether you’re home with your family or running errands or working from home or trying to pull off a baseball season in the middle of a pandemic, the subtext of everything that you do is concern.

“Not just concern for yourself, not just concern for your families, but concern for your teammates, your colleagues, your brothers and sisters, your community, the country as a whole and the world as a whole — although certainly the rest of the world has seemingly managed their way into a better place at the moment than we have.”

As countries through much of Europe and parts of Asia have effectively mobilized at a federal level to stem the spread of the virus, the United States has experienced a summer surge within what experts consider the first of possibly multiple waves of the pandemic, the death toll climbing past 135,000 — close to twice the total of Brazil, which has the second-highest number of virus-related deaths.

 

“We don’t have a huge margin for error,” Epstein said of the league’s safety and health protocols designed by the only major professional league trying to play games at all of its home sites. “As we move forward, as we continue to try to pull this off, we have to continue to find a way to keep our players safe and healthy.”

Against a moving target. Without any way to know what direction it might take tomorrow, much less August.

“The virus is the only thing in control right now,” Epstein said.

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