Major League Baseball heading into 'massive' nationwide COVID-19 testing

Major League Baseball heading into 'massive' nationwide COVID-19 testing

Major League Baseball has signed on to become a major part of a massive research project designed to give scientists a better picture of how widespread COVID-19 is throughout the country.

As many as 10,000 people, according to ESPN, are expected to take part in testing, in which 27 of baseball’s 30 MLB teams are expected to participate. It will include a variety of people, including players, front office staff, concession workers and others.

The testing is being done by Stanford, USC and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory. A 10-minute testing kit will detect the presence of antibodies that would indicate whether people had contracted the virus, even if they were asymptomatic. The goal of the study is to get a better picture of the virus’ true infection rate.

"This is the first study of national scope where we're going to get a read on a large number of communities throughout the United States to understand how extensive the spread of the virus has been," said Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University who will assess the data gathered this week and write a peer-reviewed paper he hopes to publish as early as next week. "This will be the very first of those. Why MLB versus other employers? I've reached out to others, but MLB moved by far the fastest. They've been enormously cooperative and flexible. We're trying to set up a scientific study that would normally take years to set up, and it's going to be a matter of weeks."

And this is not a case where tests are being diverted from those who need them more urgently.

"These tests are absolutely not getting redirected from any kind of frontline testing programs," said Dr. Daniel Eichner, the president of SMRTL, who has worked extensively with MLB and other sports leagues on antidoping testing.

"MLB did not partner with us for any selfish reason to get their sport back sooner. They jumped in for public health policy. That was their intention and their only intention."

Baseball's plan to play is encouraging, but won't work without essential tools

Baseball's plan to play is encouraging, but won't work without essential tools

Let me start by saying I love the fact that baseball is being creative with a plan to open its season sooner than expected. And I like the idea that players might be willing to be sequestered in the Phoenix area to play all games in that vicinity.

Playing and living in a bubble for weeks is not something anyone would relish, but on the other hand, if you're making a million bucks to do it...

I don’t think it’s a viable solution for an entire season, but it could work until life gets safer outside that bubble.

But I also hope the people pushing this plan forward with so much zeal understand the risks involved. And the tools that would be necessary to make it all work.

Obviously, reliable and rapid tests must be available for players, staff and everyone expected to be there. Those gathering in groups must be tested -- frequently. Anything short of that is an extreme gamble.

And those tests must also be readily available to all of us. For any sport to hoard thousands of testing kits while the general public is going without them is going to create an outcry that no sport wants.

So, plentiful testing for the whole country is a must. And possible, I think, because those tests are in the works and reportedly on the way.

But another thing that would be critical to this plan is the frantic search for a treatment plan for COVID-19. It’s extremely doubtful that a vaccine can be found for the virus, but certainly it’s possible to find a medication or a treatment regimen that can keep people from dying after being infected.

Unprecedented measures are being taken to repurpose existing drugs that might be useful in fighting off what is a very strong opponent.

And an effective treatment is the key, of course, for all of us being safe enough to return to a more normal existence. Just finding a way to reduce this virus to something akin to flu would be the answer.

But before that treatment is found, baseball would be taking the gamble of having to shut its plan down in failure if the virus spreads among the participants in what would be a very large group of quarantined people.

I’m not sure this is an idea that can be executed and I would hope it doesn’t set off a race to see which sport can come back first.

I don’t think being the first to come back is as important is being the sport that is the first to come back and stay back.

MLB may force other sports to follow its lead in drug testing, treatment

MLB may force other sports to follow its lead in drug testing, treatment

Major League Baseball hit a home run yesterday.

MLB, in concert with its players association, announced Thursday it has updated its drug policy, with testing for cocaine and opioids beginning in spring training and marijuana no longer on the banned substance list.

And the best part of the change is that failed tests will now be met with treatment plans, rather than just punishment. Players will be punished only if they violate prescribed treatment plans.

It sounds like the most sensible approach to drug testing in all of sports.

Tyler Skaggs, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, died of an opioid overdose last July and there is little doubt that this policy change is at least in part due to the recognition that opioid abuse has become a serious societal problem. Skaggs died with fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system.

“It is our collective hope that this agreement will help raise public awareness on the risks and dangers of opioid medications and contribute positively to a national conversation about this important topic,” said Dan Halem, M.L.B.’s deputy commissioner for baseball administration and chief legal officer, in a statement.

MLB will now test for opioids, cocaine, fentanyl and synthetic THC. It’s been apparent for a few years now that the sports leagues have lost the battle over marijuana, with the substance now legal in many areas of the country and to officially back off on testing for it is the correct move.

This surely will apply pressure to other leagues to implement the same sort of policy, including the elimination of marijuana from the banned-substance list.

Baseball isn't dying -- in spite of itself

Baseball isn't dying -- in spite of itself

It's gone on for decades now -- the idea that baseball is slowly dying and will soon be buried.

I blame the sport itself for not doing a very good job of bragging about itself. And there is plenty to brag about.

In Forbes, Maury Brown did his yearly survey of local television ratings of major-league teams and found what he seems to find every year:

When looking at cable alone, 24 RSNs that host MLB teams rank No. 1 in their market in prime time.  Major League Baseball ranks No. 1 in cable prime time in every U.S. MLB market except Miami.

And yes, you could make the claim that the game at the big-league level has become more regional. Ratings on major networks have remained flat or a little down recently -- mostly because the game has made itself so accessible via Internet, cable and satellite television that the national games just aren't that important these days. And of course, that could mean a drop in the enormous haul the clubs make off national TV contracts. But with the money they're raking in today on regional networks, so what?

And when talking about the overall popularity of the game itself, all you hear about is how slow the game is, the pace problems, etc. I think that's much more of a problem for TV viewers than those in the ballpark. And I believe more people watch professional baseball in person than any other sport. By far. Yes, because of lousy weather and the fact that several MLB teams have suddenly fallen victim to the NBA disease of tanking, MLB attendance has dropped some this season.

But when talking about the popularity of the game, nobody ever seems to mention baseball's thriving minor leagues. A lot of money is being made by owners of teams at all levels of the minors and -- in case you didn't know -- it's the only pro sport that's been capable of selling a minor league to the public. The NBA has needed a minor league for years but has been reluctant because it hasn't yet figured a way to make any real money from it. Football developmental leagues have continually failed.

Baseball's minor leagues are still spinning turnstiles. You wonder why people aren't watching MLB network games as often? They're probably at places like Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro watching teams like the Hops. Teams in the short-season Class A Northwest League, where the Hops play, averaged 3,594 fans per game in 2017.  Pacific Coast League teams -- and there were 16 of them -- averaged 6,548 per game.

All over the country -- from big cities to tiny hamlets -- fans are standing in line to buy tickets to watch baseball.

And spare me the talk about young people not being interested in baseball. Go to a game and see for yourself. Count the Little Leaguers in Hillsboro or venture out to left field during a Mariners game and check out the college kids chatting up the opposite sex. The fact is, baseball is one of the few games that young people can afford to attend.

Make  no mistake, baseball is alive and well. And I can't wait until the MLB product comes to town.

One on one with the newest investors in the Portland Diamond Project: Russell Wilson and Ciara

One on one with the newest investors in the Portland Diamond Project: Russell Wilson and Ciara

The Portland Diamond Project (PDP) added some big names to its investment group over the weekend. Seattle Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, Grammy Award-winning singer Ciara joined the group as owners/investors.

The PDP held a press conference on Saturday where Wilson said, “we’re excited about this opportunity. We’re excited about the potential of bringing a Major League Baseball team here to such a great city.”

Wilson and Ciara took a quick second after the press conference for an exclusive interview with our Dwight Jaynes to talk about the duo’s ambition to bring MLB to PDX. 


Murphy: Group pursuing MLB for Portland "doing it the right way"


Murphy: Group pursuing MLB for Portland "doing it the right way"

Dale Murphy pointed to a group of people who represented the Seattle Mariners.

"You know what you need?" he asked. "You don't have a rival. Who's your rival? You don't have one. It should be Portland."

Murphy, a special guest speaker at Thursday night's Friends of Baseball Gala at the Portland Art Museum, went on to praise the group of people working behind the scenes trying to bring a major-league baseball franchise to Portland. Earlier, Murphy shared with me that he'd met with a representative of that group and was filled in on what's happening with the baseball effort.

"Being from here, when people hear the possibility of baseball, they want to know who's involved and you want it to be done the right way," said Murphy, a star at Portland's Wilson High School who now lives in Utah. "I had a great opportunity to meet with Mike Barrett and the one thing I would say is that you should have no concerns about the group that is handling this. These are good people who care about the city of Portland. That's what you want.

"I have the utmost confidence in the group that is pursuing this. They are doing it the right way and it's going to be something that is going to make this city proud. I have a lot of confidence in them. There is so much work to be done and they are doing things the right way. Sometimes people want publicity and adulation but this group is doing it right -- getting the work done and taking care of the things that need to be taken care of. That's what this group has done.

"I want someone who is going to understand Portland and how much we love the city. We want things done the right way and that's what they're doing."

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Murphy's parents still live in Portland, he visits frequently and is visibly excited about an MLB franchise in his home town.

"I just opened a restaurant in Atlanta and I was thinking, 'Man, that would be fun to have a Murph's right by the ballpark.' If something happens here I will be in touch with this group to talk about a lot of possibilities. I would absolutely like to be involved in it. It was such a great opportunity to learn more about what they're doing and be a part of the cheering section. Baseball can mean so much to this area.

"So much has changed in the landscape of baseball franchises. The way they're building stadiums, for instance. The way they built SunTrust Park in Atlanta... with the mixed-use development, a smaller ballpark -- the ballparks become such a part of the community. These people doing this understand Portland and what a special place it is, on so many levels. This group is something the people of Portland can be proud of and get behind."

Murphy is planning on sticking around to watch one of his sons play for Weber State Saturday against Portland State. It's been an eventful week for him, too. Earlier this week he learned that he was on the list of 10 candidates to be reconsidered for baseball's Hall of Fame.

Murphy had a distinguished big-league career and was considered among the best players of his era. He played 18 seasons with the Braves, Phillies and Rockies and won back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1982 and 1983. He was also a seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time Silver Slugger Award. Murphy finished his career with a .265 average, 398 home runs and 1,266 RBIs. He led all Major League outfielders during the 1980s in home runs and RBIs. He also ranked second among outfielders in hits and extra-base hits.

Game 2 of the World Series: Welcome to modern-day baseball

Game 2 of the World Series: Welcome to modern-day baseball

Welcome to Modern Baseball. I hope you enjoyed Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday night because it was the best of new-age, analytics-based baseball.

Home runs? It's what the game is about these days. Yes, I'm guessing the ball is juiced, which is fine with me. But add in all the attention to launch angles, exit velocity and the fact that nobody wants to hit ground balls into shifts these days, you're going to get more home runs. And I love it. Eight home runs in a Series game was amazing and five in extra innings was shocking.

For too long, baseball has embraced a silly sort of one-base-at-a-time approach that has led to needlessly giving up outs with weak grounders to second and sacrifice bunts in early innings. Nobody ever paid good money to watch players bunt. And unless it's a weak-hitting pitcher bunting, the numbers just don't justify it.

I was watching a playoff game a couple of weeks ago -- wish I could remember who the participants were -- and there was a runner on second and nobody out. And of course we got all the usual pablum from the announcers about how the hitter has to make a "productive out" so the offensive team could "manufacture a run." You know, hit the ball to the right side of the infield. Hogwash. What happened was the right-handed batter took the first pitch, a hanging curve he could have hit into the upper deck, because it wasn't suitable for hitting to the right side of the field to advance the runner. On the second pitch he grounded weakly to second and became an instant hero.

He got huge back-pats from teammates and announcers for coming up with a weak out. "He did his job," they say. "He moved the runner up."

Sorry, I'd rather have a two-run homer or a simple line-drive single to left field. Even a walk. "Productive outs" are still outs -- and you get only 27 of them. Don't just give them away. And again, I think the analytics will back me up on this. Today it's all about the long ball and walks. Run the pitch count up, take your walks and belt three-run homers.

Of course there are a few things in the "new" game I don't like, foremost of which is the trend to overuse relief pitchers. All those pitching changes extend the game times and I think, in the long run, are detrimental to pitching staffs. It's led, like last night, to removing starters too early and asking closers to get six-out saves. I have no trouble with closers throwing more than one inning, but if that's what you want to do, go old school and have them do it in the regular season the way Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage did it. Don't condition them all season for one inning of work and then in the postseason, the most pressure-packed times, ask them to double their work load and do something you didn't ask them to do all season.

This World Series features two teams that are leaders in statistical analysis. They compile data and have learned how to use it to their advantage. It's a very underreported part of this World Series. These guys have come up with algorithms to analyze pitch sequences, if you can believe it. And the reason I bring this up is that I'm just sick of the old timers clinging to their tired and boring way of playing the game and deriding the new era of statistical analysis. There are still so-called experts who don't know OPS from TNT and it's time they did a little studying.

If you don't respect new information, you're never going to learn anything. And if you want to stop learning, just go away.

Mike Barrett involved with group attempting to bring MLB to Portland

Mike Barrett involved with group attempting to bring MLB to Portland

A management group has been working quietly behind the scenes for more than a year on a plan to bring major-league baseball and a stadium development to Portland.

The spokesman for the group, and a managing partner, is the former television voice of the Trail Blazers, Mike Barrett.

“There is a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative,” Barrett said Tuesday. “We will keep you fully apprised of any and all developments as this project progresses.”

Barrett, who did not identify anyone else in the group,  said they prefer to operate behind the scenes at this time but are pursuing a "smart and careful approach" and "doing it exactly the right way,"

Barrett was known for his work in basketball, particularly his play-by-play duties with the Trail Blazers, which began in the 2003-2004 season and ended after the 2015-16 season. But he was also an all-state pitcher at West Albany High School and is a lifelong baseball fan.

“After the Trail Blazers, I was weighing several opportunities but I didn’t want to leave the area,” Barrett said. “And when I was approached by this group, with a chance to help bring major-league baseball to my home state, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

Portland began to sneak into conversations about MLB expansion during the last year or so.  Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred mentioned the city recently during an interview in Seattle, saying Portland would be “on a list” for expansion, emphasizing a need for a team in the Pacific time zone as part of a expanded and reconfigured 32-team league.

In a story published this week in Baseball America, well-connected Hall of Fame baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby outlined a 32-team expanded MLB with realignment that resulted in a 156-game schedule and four eight-team divisions, with Portland listed in the West division.

Ringolsby referred to Portland as a city with a “legitimate” ownership group, which is the group Barrett is associated with:

“And there is a legitimate ownership group in Portland that has the necessary financing along with support for a stadium, which would be partially funded by a $150 million grant. Approved by the state of Oregon to help finance a stadium when efforts were underway in 2003 to be the site for the relocation of the Expos (who instead moved to Washington, D.C.), the grant is still available.”



After all these years, Portland still not on MLB radar

After all these years, Portland still not on MLB radar

No surprise.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred Tuesday named three cities as potential candidates for an MLB expansion team -- Charlotte, Montreal and Mexico City.

Portland? Nope. No mention. No discussion. No movement. No owner. No stadium bigger than the tiny one in Lents Park. No politician with enough guts to even talk about it.

After all these years, still a bush-league town.

That is all.

Was Tebow trying out for a team or modeling workout gear for a commercial?

Was Tebow trying out for a team or modeling workout gear for a commercial?

Tim Tebow, in case you didn't know, tried out for major-league baseball teams yesterday. The best review I saw of his performance was that he "looked like an actor trying to portray a baseball player."

And the most ironic thing to come out of the workout is that, just like in football, nobody thought much of the former quarterback's arm strength. Overall, though, he can run and hit batting-practice pitches with power. I would assume someone will give him a minor-league chance. But he's 29 years old and has a lot to learn in a short amount of time.

Be that as it may, Tebow may have accomplished what he was after during the workout. I thought it was curious that several people joked about how many times he changed his attire during the workout and if you scroll through some highlights you see possibly three different "costumes" during one workout -- which may be a world record for one tryout.

The cynic in me would suggest that had a lot to do with the deal he had signed the previous day with Adidas, which is probably looking for a version of multi-sport star Bo Jackson. Why else would a company sign Tebow, an original Nike guy, who has all but exhausted his options in football?

I wonder how long it will take for that company to turn around a commercial spot based on that tryout? And it's likely to bring you to tears, you know? The story of a solitary, driven man chasing a dream against all odds... But that's just the cynic in me, I'm sure.