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Pandemic Baseball Chronicles: COVID-19 game postponements, and an Opening Weekend review

Hand sanitizer, virtual fans and MLB’s first major team outbreak has caused games to be postponed.

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Over the weekend as I was planning today’s Pandemic Baseball Chronicles I thought it would be lighthearted and fun. There are a lot of fun observations towards the end of this post, but three games into MLB’s shortened 2020 season this post is going to have to start out on a serious note, because as of this writing the first games of the Orioles/Marlins and Yankees/Phillies series have been postponed due to a rapidly growing COVID-19 outbreak on the Miami Marlins:

The biggest problem here is that everyone knew about the Marlins outbreak before yesterday’s game — but they played it anyway. From Joel Sherman of the NY Post:

MLB could not make it out of the first weekend of regular-season games before facing its most significant COVID-19 challenge.

The Marlins learned Saturday night that from tests administered Friday three players had tested positive for the virus, The Post has learned. An additional test was administered team-wide Sunday before a game against the Phillies in Philadelphia, with results due by early Monday.

Sherman’s article also includes this quote from Marlins manager Don Mattingly, which absolutely blew my mind:

After MLB and the Marlins learned of the positive tests, tracing was done to determine who those players had been in contact with and the other players were questioned about symptoms and it was decided to play Sunday’s game. Miguel Rojas, one of the Marlins’ team leaders, said all 30 Marlins met and “There was never a thought that we would not play.”

Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, “We never considered not playing [Sunday]. We are taking risks every day.”

They held a team meeting and never even considered not playing Sunday’s game. Just wow.

Now four teams are in an indefinite holding pattern as they await additional testing. It is entirely unclear how long that testing will take, but with incubation periods of anywhere from two to 14 days let’s be really clear, those tests won’t give anyone enough information to make decisions about this week’s games.

This isn’t just an Eastern Division problem. Earlier this weekend the Reds placed Matt Davidson on the COVID-IL after a positive test result on Saturday. Yesterday the Reds added Mike Moustakas to the IL after he didn’t feel well. They also scratched Nick Senzel from their lineup without explanation. The Cubs are scheduled to play the Reds in a little over four hours and there is no news as to what the latest Reds test results show. I have yet to see an article or announcement about additional testing in Cincinnati, nor has there been any discussion of postponing tonight’s game.

Opening Weekend Notes

We all knew that baseball in 2020 was going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. I was prepared for masks, new celebrations and no fans (more on that in a second) but I am not going to lie — I was not prepared for Anthony Rizzo to bust out some hand sanitizer for Orlando Arcia at first base:

Rizzo is not going to offer hand sanitizer throughout the season. Marquee Sports Network reports that it was just a fun way to recognize the strangeness of the situation:

“Listen, we’re playing obviously in unusual circumstances and you guys know me as well as anyone and how much fun I like to have fun and joke around and keep it loose,” Rizzo said. “It’s no different.

“We have a lot of respect for the Brewers — they’re a good club and they bring a lot of energy, too. Just one of those things that surprised the camera got it.”

With no fans in the stands teams and networks have gotten more creative in terms of how they fill those empty seats. The Cubs have basically turned the bleachers into a series of advertisements:

I don’t love it, but I get it. It’s a way to generate some revenue. Fine, whatever. I sort of wish they’d been as creative as the Athletics who have a bunch of teddy bears and elephants in the stands at the Coliseum because they are awesome. I would absolutely pay money to sponsor a Cubs bear in the stands at Wrigley Field:

Fox had the absolute worst solution and I sincerely hope they will scrap virtual fans going forward. It was disorienting and weird. For starters, the fans aren’t always there. So you’re watching a game with empty bleachers and then all of the sudden there are people. I personally found it jarring.

But it’s also difficult to spot home run balls with the virtual crowd. Neither Matt Vasgersian nor Eric Karros could find Justin Smoak’s home run ball in the stands, and I lost Kyle Schwarber’s as well. Honestly, just leave the stands empty on TV.

Admittedly the poll below isn’t scientific or anything, but it is 700 people who care about baseball. The verdict? Virtual fans are terrible:

Meanwhile, the Mets are trying to set a good example and Mr. and Mrs. Met are both wearing masks. However, they don’t have ears for masks and this is going to bug me for days:


Baseball this weekend was fun, It brought me joy in a part of my soul that has been hibernating for months. But it cannot and should not happen if the protocols put in place by the league cannot keep players safe. As I’m writing this piece I can’t stop thinking about Willson Contreras explaining that he was going to pack his own towels and sheets for the trip to Cincinnati as a precaution and the dread I feel that that will not be enough to protect him if someone asymptomatic comes to bat while he is catching.

We all knew MLB would face challenges with COVID-19 outbreaks during this shortened season, no one thought they would cancel it all over a handful of positive tests. But a 14-person outbreak on one team after one weekend is not a handful of cases. Plus, I don’t think anyone thought those problems would emerge in the first weekend of games.

Dodgers pitcher David Price, who opted out of the 2020 season, summed up my thoughts perfectly with this tweet:

What MLB does — or doesn’t do — in response to today’s events will tell us a lot about their priorities this season. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see more players opt out based on the league’s decisions. As of now, though... baseball’s still going to continue: