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

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

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 league.

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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.

“Why?”

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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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.”

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Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

The COVID-19 pandemic finally caught up to the Cubs, who had their weekend series against the Cardinals postponed Friday after the Cardinals' coronavirus outbreak worsened by three positive tests before the teams were scheduled to open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday night.

The Cardinals, who haven't played since last week because of an outbreak that now includes at least 16 players and staff, scrambled to test and retest personnel Friday as Major League Baseball wiped another series off their schedule.

Cardinals president John Mozeliak said Friday the latest players to test positive are outfielder Austin Dean and pitcher Ryan Helsley. The club announced Tuesday catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong recently tested positive.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since intake testing began more than a month ago, had not lost a game on their schedule because of coronavirus issues.

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The Cubs (10-3) were scheduled to fly home from St. Louis Friday night and are not scheduled to play again until Tuesday in Cleveland. This weekend's series has not been rescheduled yet.

“Based on the information MLB has shared with us, postponing this series is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of the Cardinals and the Cubs,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a statement. “Therefore, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“While it’s obviously less than ideal, this is 2020, and we will embrace whatever steps are necessary to promote player and staff wellbeing and increase our chances of completing this season in safe fashion,” he added. “We will be ready to go on Tuesday in Cleveland. In the meantime, we wish the Cardinals personnel involved a quick and complete recovery.”

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