Rockies' Desmond first MLB player to opt out of 2021 season publicly

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(Reuters) - Two-time All-Star Ian Desmond of the Colorado Rockies has opted out of the upcoming 2021 season, the outfielder said on Sunday, citing current playing circumstances.

Desmond is the first player Major League Baseball (MLB) is aware of to opt out of the 2021 season, a league spokesman said, as America's pastime moves towards another year playing under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.

Desmond opted out of the 2020 season with the Rockies as well, citing concerns about playing in the pandemic.

"Over the last few months, I've had tough conversations. I've asked a lot of questions and done a lot of thinking. For now, I've decided to opt out of the 2021 season," Desmond wrote on Instagram on Sunday.

The 35-year-old, a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner who previously played for the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers, said he had the full backing of his team mates and coaches.

"My desire to be with my family is greater than my desire to go back and play baseball under these circumstances," said Desmond. "I'm going to continue to train and watch how things unfold."

The Rockies, who are currently in Spring Training at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The team is among about 10 franchises that have opened ballpark doors to help administer COVID-19 vaccinations, as federal, state and local officials scramble to inoculate frontline workers and vulnerable people in the U.S., which is nearing 500,000 coronavirus deaths.

MLB and its players' association said on Friday that nine players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during the league's mandatory intake screening process.

The league's Opening Day is set for April 1. Earlier this month, the league said it added a new code of conduct that precluded certain "high-risk" activities.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond)