The Marlins' COVID-19 outbreak is really bad, and exactly what MLB signed up for

This is bad, really bad, and it will get worse, because living here — today, with leaders whose first priority is themselves, among fellow citizens who can’t be bothered with fortitude or compassion — looks just like this.

This is the world into which Major League Baseball rolled its operation. If you signed up for baseball in the summer of 2020, for an escape from reality, you signed up for a baseball team — fathers, husbands, sons, brothers and friends — holed up in hotel rooms, 1,200 miles from home, while people wearing masks, gloves and grim expressions knocked on their doors.

The Miami Marlins were tested for the coronavirus again Monday morning in Philadelphia, a day after they were tested (again), because suddenly too many of those tests were coming back positive, in waves, and already one flight home had been canceled and another was at least postponed, and the outbreak that could shut down a season had found them first.

A baseball game between the Marlins and Baltimore Orioles in Miami on Monday night was postponed. A game Monday night between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, where the Marlins had just spent three days on the field, in the dugout and in the clubhouse while at least a dozen players and personnel were carrying the virus, also was postponed.

This is bad, really bad, and so wholly predictable. The structural precautions are expanded rosters, taxi squads and a couple dozen other guys set aside to throw bullpens and take batting practice. When the virus blew in, however, the real safeguard was America’s appetite for the game, its willingness to offer up others for its amusement and then its refusal to even temporarily commit to something greater than itself. We do pandemics, it turns out, how we’ve come to do everything else: What’s best for me?

The answer was baseball games on TV.

So if we shoveled baseball with everything else into the furnace that is four million cases and 150,000 deaths and an unyielding determination to get our nails done, then clearly we had the stomach for 12 or 15 or more Miami Marlins calling their wives and children with the news they were new to the curve.

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, left, gives an elbow-bump to Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi, right, prior to a baseball game, Friday, July 24, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
The Marlins and Phillies played in Philadelphia this weekend as more and more Marlins players turned up positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

We were OK, too, with those same Marlins sitting on a bus on a tarmac in Atlanta at the end of last week, on their way to Philadelphia, having been told their flight was delayed because a flight attendant and a team official had tested positive for the virus. The flight crew would have to be swapped out, and then they’d be on their way, as if this were normal, as if we actually knew a way to contain this thing, and then they’d be expected to be as good at baseball as they’ve ever been. Then they’d be told the flight attendant and team official had registered false positives, as it turned out, and what a relief that would be if they really believed it, because a couple days later four of their own had the virus, and a day after that another eight or 10 of them had it, and who knew after that.

This is bad, really bad, because now it’s a 29-team league for at least the short term, and a 29-stadium league, and after exactly one weekend and a handful of very optimistic press releases we’re just now confronting the possibility that a baseball season flung to the corners of the country might not work.

Meantime, Major League Baseball officials were choosing to continue a course that resisted transparency. When test results were delayed over a long weekend in early July, they did not address the foul-ups until after players wondered if this was the process they were expected to trust. Coming up on noon Monday, as one of their teams was basically quarantining against the pandemic, as games were being called off, as the season endured its first wild wobble, they had said little or nothing. Ten other games were scheduled for Monday in cities that held their own shares of trepidation. Teams were boarding buses and airplanes, were checking into hotels and were reporting for work, wondering if they were seeing the beginning of the end of this.

Today, it is the baseball season, the chaos, the crisis, we chose. Those big rosters weren’t sitting there for no reason. Those stadiums weren’t empty for nothing. The spit tests, the masks, the hundred-and-something-page manual, the opt-outs, the Toronto Blue Jays as vagabonds, those were all real.

But, then, we also decided a month ago we had the stomach for baseball in a pandemic, that we could live with other people in that arena, that what we really needed was a distraction from the real world. Meanwhile, they’re spitting in test tubes in hotel rooms in Philadelphia and waiting for their cell phones to ding with the news that they’re sick or not.

It’s bad, really bad, which, of course, is precisely what it would be. Remember, we were good with that.

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