I am so torn on the return of baseball in 2020. From a selfish perspective nothing would make me happier. My mental health would improve considerably with the daily three-plus-hour break the Cubs provide. Just hearing the sounds of baseball like Friday’s organ at Wrigley Field or interviewing Pat Hughes for the podcast have lifted my spirits for days in ways very little else has over the past 66 days.
In fact, that probably isn’t purely selfish, I would bet large amounts of money I’m not alone in this. For starters, readers of this blog and diary probably feel similarly. While some people are skeptical of the ability of sports to truly heal, I don’t think anyone desperate for their return really believes baseball resolves the underlying structural issues in society that have been laid bare by the pandemic.
Issues like racism, economic inequality, the cost of health care, the spatial requirements of social distancing, access to healthy food and so much more aren’t resolved by the existence of baseball or any other sport. But moments like Mike Piazza’s home run after 9/11 to give the Mets a lead still have an impact on us and lift our spirits. I can’t watch this clip without tearing up almost 20 years later, it tugs at an emotional core of my being very few things can access:
I have no idea what that moment looks like in pandemic baseball but I have zero doubt that it will happen. I also know my soul craves that moment for me, for you, for anyone and everyone who’s mind needs a break from constant anxiety and stress.
But it is almost impossible to look at the stringent testing and monitoring regime that MLB can put in place for baseball players and wonder if those resources are misplaced. There are essential institutions in society that could use similar protocols and there is approximately zero chance the people who provide food for our society, care for our sick, and teach our children will have access to the testing regime Ken Rosenthal reports players, essential MLB personnel and their families would receive:
• Regular testing for all players, managers, coaches and umpires, plus a limited number of essential staff members who come into close proximity with players.
• MLB will monitor developments in testing and attempt to use the least invasive and fastest methods commercially available without adversely impacting public health needs.
• The vast majority of tests will be run on saliva collections, though oral or nasal swabs might be used at times. Blood samples will be taken less frequently for antibody testing.
• All players must undergo “intake screening” upon arriving at spring training. The screening will take place at multiple locations and at staggered times. It will consist of a temperature check with a contactless thermometer and body fluid and blood samples.
• Individuals who are tested must self-quarantine at his or her spring-training residence until the results of the testing are reported, likely within 24 to 48 hours. Any individual who tests positive is instructed to self-quarantine and gets treated accordingly.
• Asymptomatic individuals will undergo temperature checks and symptom screens at least twice daily. All individuals will undergo testing multiple times per week, with results taking approximately 24 hours to report.
• An individual with a temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, other symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or in close contact with a confirmed case is subject to immediate rapid diagnostic test at a location close to the club facility.
• Each club must maintain a dedicated testing area in its spring training site and MLB ballpark, as well as a dedicated isolation area where an individual who develops symptoms or learns of a positive result can isolate pending relocation to home or medical facility.
• Free diagnostic and antibody testing is available to individuals who live in the same household and health care workers or other first responders in the clubs’ home cities as a public service.
• Each individual will conduct daily home screenings that include a personal temperature check each morning. Clubs will provide thermometers.
• Before entering a club facility, individuals will get temperatures checked and complete a short symptom and exposure questionnaire.
• Any individual who reports COVID-19 symptoms or a temperature above 100 during a home screening will not be permitted to enter a club facility and instead must immediately self-isolate and be directed to a team physician.
• Each club must develop procedures for isolating, transporting, testing and treating individuals who display potential symptoms.
• Clubs must take the following steps to minimize potential transmission:
Identify all players and other employees who have had close contact and closely monitor them.
Team physician may determine some or all of those who should get tested.
Immediate cleaning and disinfecting of all club-controlled areas.
Reinforce the importance of hygiene.
• Individuals who test positive must self-isolate, with daily communication and remote care from the club medical staff, including follow-up testing.
• The club, in coordination with local health officials, must conduct contact tracing, clean and disinfect locations where the individual was and confidentially notify public health authorities.
• Additional precautions and accommodations will be taken for individuals identified by club as “high-risk.”
I mean, I am exhausted just reading that list, but I also think it’s telling that society seems absolutely willing and able to expend these resources to get baseball back, but the workers in our grocery stores who have been essential for the entire pandemic have nothing close to this. Moments like this historically have also been moments for change. We don’t need to replicate the inequality that we see in the world in reopening society, and we should demand more from the leaders of all important institutions, including baseball.
I will spare Al the trouble of adding a “no-politics” disclaimer to this post, but I thought it was really important fans could see the extent of testing/self-quarantine/regulation that would be necessary for baseball to return. I’d ask that we comment about this by focusing on essential workers, equity and baseball rather than politics so Al’s moderating fingers can have a bit of a break.