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Sara’s Diary, Day 99 without baseball: A COVID-19 outbreak at Phillies camp

Even if there is an agreement the pandemic is still a threat to any hope of a season

MLB Still In Limbo Due To The Covid-19 Pandemic
A view of empty Spectrum Field where at least eight Phillies players have tested positive for COVID-19
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s been 99 days without baseball and the clock is just ticking away on any chance of an MLB season. A few weeks ago a friend asked me how likely I thought it was that baseball would be played in 2020, I told him I gave it about a 70 percent chance.

I no longer believe that’s true. I don’t even think there is a 50 percent chance. Probably something closer to 30 percent, but honestly it’s likely even less than that.

For most of the last two weeks fans have been laser-focused on the negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA to see if they could come to terms on salaries, the number of games, the DH, and the number of teams in the postseason. There have been proposals, frameworks, acrimonious responses, and jabs back and forth on social media. Honestly, there is more than enough drama for a decade of baseball labor relations and this isn’t even the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it’s a prelude.

Given all the drama it would be easy to forget that the reason we are in this position is the COVID-19 pandemic that suspended the season in the first place. The pandemic is not going away anytime soon and today there was news out of Clearwater, Florida, that eight members of the Philadelphia Phillies who were training at their team facility have tested positive for COVID-19 as Sports Illustrated reported:

The Philadelphia Phillies have closed their Clearwater, Fla., training facility indefinitely after five players and three staff members working at the site tested positive for COVID-19, the club announced Friday.

The article goes on the clarify that eight staff members had tested negative and 32 other players and staff members are awaiting results.

It is a sobering reminder that even if MLB and the MLBPA can come to an agreement to play baseball in 2020 the novel coronavirus may have other ideas. Cases continue to rise in multiple states, but noticeably in the two states every team uses for spring training facilities: Florida and Arizona as these charts from the New York Times clearly show:

Florida cases spiking
New York Times
Arizona cases spiking
New York Times

Additionally, on Tuesday Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin he thought it would be prudent to wrap up any baseball season before October. That is one month earlier than the owners’ offer and two months earlier than the players’ proposal.

Assuming MLB and the MLBPA can reach an agreement for a 2020 season I assume there is some number of positive cases that would cancel the entire endeavor all over again. I’m not entirely sure how many players and MLB staff members would need to test positive for COVID-19 to cancel any potential 2020 season, but I have to imagine the numbers out of the Phillies’ camp are closing in on that threshold.

I know, I know - this entire entry has just been terrible news. So I’ll leave you with a glimmer of hope for 2021 in Fauci’s aforementioned interview. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also said he’d be comfortable watching a baseball game in a stadium, with limited fan seating, once the infection rates decline:

“In Washington, D.C., the cases are going down, but we’re not finished with the outbreak yet,” he said, “That’s the reason why, when I’m on the outside, I always wear a mask. I avoid crowds.”

Fauci, 79, said he misses watching his hometown team, the World Series champion Washington Nationals. The 2020 season would start — and probably finish — in fan-free ballparks. But Fauci said he would feel comfortable catching a game in a stadium with limited capacity once the infection rate declines, even if not to zero.

It is entirely unclear whether or not there will be baseball in 2020, but the return of some fans to ballparks in 2021 would change the scope of negotiating next season.

For now I’ll do my part to avoid crowds, wear a mask and hold onto hope that the nation’s pastime will make a comeback as soon as it’s safe to play ball.