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A thousand things have to go right for there to be a 60-game Major League Baseball season in 2020 — and not even a week into training camp, we’re learning just how difficult this is going to be to pull off.
On Sunday night and into Monday, it was revealed that numerous teams administered COVID-19 tests last week and hadn’t gotten the results. Now, we’re getting a preview of what happens when even a few things don’t go according to the league’s 100-page plan. Even the most well-intentioned coronavirus plan doesn’t hold up when one domino is out of place.
The most egregious example of dropping the ball was with the Oakland Athletics’ tests. General manager Dave Forst is reportedly livid after COVID-19 tests given to players and staff on Friday were still waiting on Sunday night to be transported to MLB’s testing facility in Utah.
The Washington Nationals were in the same position. The Houston Astros also cited testing delays in canceling a Monday workout. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels reportedly had testers no-show on Sunday. The holiday weekend is no doubt a part of this, but it’s not like nobody knew Fourth of July was coming.
If baseball can’t handle a holiday weekend, what’s going to happen when there’s a hurdle we weren’t expecting?
Players are supposed to be tested multiple times each week, but Cubs star Kris Bryant said on Monday that he was tested last Tuesday and then not again until Sunday.
“I know there will be hiccups, but you can’t have hiccups with this,” Bryant told reporters Monday.
Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, meanwhile, said Sunday that he’d been tested Friday but didn’t get his results and was tested again Sunday without knowing the results of the first test.
“So, we gotta clean that up. Right?” Doolittle told reporters. “That’s one thing that makes me a little nervous.” Doolittle also said the Nationals haven’t received the personal protective equipment they were promised.
It’s an unacceptable number of mishaps when you consider the stakes. We’re talking about hundreds of players and staff members in close quarters, a breeding ground for the coronavirus were it to get loose in an MLB clubhouse. And these players aren’t in a bubble like the NBA. They’ll head back out into the regular world each day.
This isn’t something as mundane as uniforms not getting washed after a night game or the clubhouse getting the wrong pregame meal. The margin for error here is zero.
Baseball’s plan to restart only works if everybody is 100 percent committed to looking out for the greater good. As we’ve heard in previous weeks, this won’t work if players aren’t being responsible in their down time. But it also won’t work if the people tasked with testing players and transmitting the samples don’t do their jobs.
While baseball rushes to get back on the field so everybody can make a little bit more money and the country can feel a little more normal, this is another moment that has to make even the most gung-ho sports fan wonder if any of this is worth it.
Some of the players are wondering the same. Bryant said Monday that he still felt uncomfortable and thought things would be safer. Buster Posey expressed over the weekend that he’s not 100 percent sure he’ll play.
Both followed Mike Trout, the reigning MVP and face of the game in 2020, who said the same. Trout expressed his doubts Friday, citing his pregnant wife and son due in August, then was seen on the field practicing with a mask — a perfect image of baseball in the age of the coronavirus. If baseball can’t convince its best player it’s safe enough, that seems like a problem.
“I wanted to play this year because I felt that it would be safe and I would be comfortable,” Bryant said Monday. “Honestly, I don’t really feel that way.”
Major League Baseball released a statement Monday afternoon that acknowledged the issues, saying: “Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend. The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned. Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays. We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence. We commend the affected Clubs that responded properly by cancelling workouts.”
It’s true that this is a new world for everyone. New routines, new deadlines, new pressures — and even higher stakes. The thing to do now isn’t to point fingers.
MLB, the players union and the contractors they task with carrying out things like this all should have the same takeaway: We need to get better.
This can’t happen. Not when players are testing positive and states around the country are seeing surges in new coronavirus cases. Not if the intention is to have a 60-game baseball season in every team’s home parks, with travel and a postseason and everything else that goes into it.
We’re not even a week in, but this already proved what baseball is up against. It won’t be easy.
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