That’s how long it took Major League Baseball’s much-delayed, much-anticipated regular season with a COVID-19 pandemic lurking in the background to hit a major snag. Earlier Monday, the Miami Marlins announced multiple players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19 (most figures put the number at 14, but it could be higher). After facing the Atlanta Braves in two exhibition games last week, the Miami Marlins faced the Philadelphia Phillies in their regular-season opening series in Philadelphia. With the announcement of positive test results, the Marlins have decided to remain in Pennsylvania, postponing their return to South Florida for their home opener versus Baltimore. The Phillies, on the other hand, all will reportedly receive COVID tests and their home game versus the New York Yankees has also been postponed.
In short, we are seeing just the beginnings of the effect COVID-19 cases will have on a regular season and this is a major test for MLB. Was this completely unexpected? Not really. Everything that has gone into the return of America’s pastime is now at risk. So what options does MLB have? Let’s explore a couple of those briefly.
Option one: Postpone competition across the league for two weeks. I am very tempted to say just eastern competition (NL East and AL East since there’s no other crossover), but the obvious issue there is the central and western divisions would complete their regular season before eastern divisions. You also run into the issue of MLB extending its season beyond the desired timing of the Fall Classic in October. If COVID-19 in combination with flu season is expected to worsen the pandemic, time is short. Depending on what happens with the rest of the Marlins and Phillies’ test results, it might be an option worth exploring.
Option two: After testing reveals who is positive and who is not, both squads will move forward in the coming days with quasi-different appearances and lineup cards. It probably won’t force a major delay, but an outbreak, even if contained between two teams, would have ripple effects and forces us to wonder what happens a second time with different teams. Or a third time. How long are we willing to continue this dance with health and safety?
Option three: Close the whole thing down and keep everyone away until 2021. MLB reportedly is not considering this option. I would also say we are not there yet, but if this gets more out of hand, this is a consideration that has to come up, and it would only gain more traction. This is a hurdle for MLB and if it can’t pass this first hurdle, how could we expect it to clear another?
It’s at this point some might be quick to point out majority of people will recover from COVID-19, especially the younger crowd. And while, yes, many will recover, what’s to say of future health issues and concerns down the road due to COVID. This disease is so new, we simply don’t know what the long-term health consequences are and that is what is most worrisome. Just like how COVID-19 affects different people in different ways, so too could be the long-term effects on the body. At what point do we say this is neither safe nor feasible for the short term or the long term; let’s keep as many individuals as healthy as possible. There’s risk and reward. But how close are we to the risk eclipsing the reward?
On a more positive note, the National Hockey League (NHL) announced today zero COVID-19 positive tests of 4,256 tests administered at the conclusion of Phase 3 of its return to play strategy. Zero. That’s quite staggering and sets up well considering the NHL is set to return to action on Saturday. To give a little background, the NHL postponed its season in mid-March, with most teams having all but a dozen or so games remaining in the regular season. Now, it plans to have an expanded playoff format in two Canadian host cities: Toronto and Edmonton. The operation also calls for strict quarantine measures and daily tests. If the NHL plans to conclude its 2019-20 season, players and coaches must obey the quarantine procedures. No, I can’t imagine its loads of fun not being able to socialize much, go to a nice dinner, only stick to certain locations at designated times, etc., but the NHL certainly appears to be on the right track to having a champion-crowning season. Plus being in Canada probably helps a little bit.
Is MLB’s 2020 season in jeopardy just as it got started? MLB doesn’t see it that way at the moment, but every day that passes we tread new waters and we navigate new streams. But an “if” just inched closer to becoming a “when” and if we happen upon a dam, our response shouldn’t just be: darn.