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5th July 2020 - Baseball in the Time of Covid

Posted by theprincipality on July 5, 2020 at 12:45 PM

In early March, at the time I would normally start preparing this website for the new season, it seemed a far-fetched idea that the disease emerging from China would have such a profound effect on the world. After all, we had seen SARS, Bird Flu and Swine Flu come and go without much disruption and at the time it was probably felt that Covid-19 would follow much the same pattern.

 

As Spring Training got underway, it was becoming clearer that this disease was different. Unlike its cousin, SARS, Covid-19 is contagious before symptoms start to show and highly contagious. As such, it spread like wildfire first across Asia, Europe and then swiftly into the Americas. Governments everywhere went into panic and imposed restrictions on people’s lives unheard of in peacetime. Mass gatherings were banned, including weddings, funerals and sporting events as health services scrambled to find beds and ventilators for the sick and dying. It was a global catastrophe never before seen. Major League Baseball cancelled the remainder of Spring Training and postponed the season, as had almost all other sports around the world. This had never happened before. There was no playbook from which to run. Policy was being created as the virus progressed.

 

Now, three months later, Covid-19 is still very much with us. Worldwide there have been over half a million deaths and 10 million known cases. The majority of the dead are elderly or had an underlying condition. For those of us left, life continues, but not as we ever knew it. Face masks are a common, if not mandatory, sight. Businesses all over the world face bankruptcy after three months locked down. Social distancing sees long lines outside supermarkets and keeps families apart. Yet it has become blatantly apparent that we cannot simply lock ourselves away until this disease disappears. Quite frankly, there would be nothing left to come back to should we do that. So governments are taking steps to reopen economies and to try to return life to as normal as possible, whilst minimising the risk of further spreading the infections.

 

Asia and Europe appear to have made great strides. Italy, Spain and the UK were the hardest hit, but each has “flattened the curve” and both death rates and infection rates are vastly reduced. The United States continues to struggle though, in my opinion hampered by contradictory and unhelpful advice from the White House, combined with large swathes of the population who refuse to give up elements of their freedom in order to curtail infections. In terms of timing, the death of George Floyd and the outpouring of anger and protest that it brought could not have come at a worse time for the country as thousands flocked to the streets. Any good work that was done to reduce the infection rate has been erased, as record numbers of cases are emerging, showing a second wave much larger than the first. But the show must go on. African Americans deserve social justice and an end to racism. People of all races need to earn a living and life needs to get back to normal as quickly as possible, otherwise for everyone that is left, the cure will become worse than the disease.

 

And so enters baseball. So long hailed as America’s pastime, a staple of Summer, it would raise national morale to see the season begin. And yet, aping the national dialogue of ‘us and them’, of hate and mistrust, the season almost ended before it began. The team owners and the Players Union squabbled over salaries, as the owners backtracked on a deal that was struck in March for pro-rated pay. At one point it seemed a 100 game season might have been possible, but whilst the players wanted more games, the owners and MLB, it seemed, wanted fewer. Eventually a deal was struck for 60 games to begin around July 23rd, but it seems like a scenario in which nobody is happy. Several high profile players have announced they won’t participate, with perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout publicly discussing his discomfort, unsure if he will join them. The season feels forced and contrived, but perhaps will feel differently once it gets going. Other sports in Europe, particularly soccer, have restarted without fans in attendance and what is left are stadiums devoid of atmosphere and enjoyment. I have said all along that fans make sport what it is and that playing in empty stadia to satisfy TV contracts will harm the brand in the long-term. A walk-off home run being greeted by a mob of teammates at home plate and a Gatorade shower is part of the spontaneous passion that makes sport great. Nobody wants to see instead a thumbs-up from across a socially distanced dugout. But what will be, will be.

 

As of writing, the Atlanta Braves find themselves battling the effects of the virus as four players, including Freddie Freeman, Touki Toussaint and Will Smith, test positive for Covid-19. Hopefully all make swift recoveries, but should a player fall seriously ill or, even worse, die from it, how can MLB justify forcing through a truncated season? As much as I love baseball, I feel that it is perhaps in the best interest of the sport to scratch 2020 and prepare in earnest for 2021, when hopefully this deadly virus has been defeated.

 

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