Miami, Florida – The MLB dream has turned into a COVID-19 nightmare. Elation and excitement have mutated into apprehension and contentious outrage. The harsh reality of an ongoing pandemic has reared its ugly head, colliding with the degree of normalcy MLB tried to bring forth in its abbreviated season. Within three days questions were raised on whether the measures taken by the league are enough to protect the players, coaches, and staff. It’s worsened since then.

It began before the first game of the shortened season when Jorge Alfaro was placed on IL due to COVID. When the team set out from its exhibition games in Atlanta there were no positive test results. It was after the ballclub’s arrival in Philadelphia that the situation changed. On Sunday morning José Ureña was scratched from his scheduled start, hours before the first pitch. Ureña contracted coronavirus. During the game, it was announced Garrett Cooper and Harold Ramirez also tested positive.

On Monday the outbreak expanded to seven more players and two coaches, raising concerns on whether baseball was in jeopardy. Reports state that during the owner’s call there was no talk of canceling the season. Essentially, they’re redoubling their efforts.

At the time of this article, four more Marlins players have tested positive including team star Miguel Rojas. Miami’s season has been effectively paused to monitor the health and safety of all those affected. The Philadelphia Phillies’ own testing returned mostly negative so far. One staff member’s test came back positive. Due to the incubation period laid out by the CDC, they’re not out of the woods yet. It begs the question, how confident is the league on allowing the Phillies to travel? Other questions appear regarding the duration of keeping teams quarantined and its effects on the rest of the league.

Moving Away from the Bubble

Once upon a time, there was talk of playing in one area. Two states were considered: Florida and Arizona. At that moment, due to the close proximity of its dozen or so baseball fields, Arizona was the frontrunner choice. Compared to the Sunshine State, it cut down on travel costs and presented fewer logistical challenges. However, by June this idea was largely absent with the focus being on the ongoing negotiations on salaries.

By the end of the month the idea was no longer viable, both states were and remain COVID hotspots. The league moved away from any notion of a bubble. Instead, they went with traveling teams playing on their home field, with the exception of the Toronto Blue Jays. A ballclub can be in as many as three cities any given week. With all that movement, the chances of infection are significantly higher. Throw in the folks who are asymptomatic and it becomes even more challenging.

Poking through Twitter, ideas of shifting towards playing in a few bubble cities have been tossed around. While that is an improvement over what we have now, it’s not a palatable option to the league’s top brass. Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on MLB Network that the Marlins’ outbreak can be managed, confident the health protocols are working. They’re treating it as an unfortunate speedbump.

I watched several games throughout the weekend. Facial covering and social distancing were on several occasions disregarded by both the players and coaches. Some had their masks on while they played on the field, only to take it off during their at-bat. Not all the umpires wore masks either.

Mounting Pressure

In the latest sign of rising concern amongst the players, the Washington Nationals decided against traveling to South Florida this upcoming weekend. In a team vote, the vast majority of the players voted against going to Miami for the three-game series. The current plan is to have the Phillies off until Friday and the Marlins off until Monday. The Yankees, meanwhile, play at Baltimore Wednesday and Thursday.

It’s not 100 percent known where they contracted the disease but there’s been plenty of finger-pointing. It’s true the players decided to take the field on Sunday, despite some of their own teammates testing positive. What’s also true, the Phillies knew of the Sunday morning news and opted to play as well. The league should also be held accountable for not stepping in. Plenty of blame to go around. Given the circumstances, there was always a chance of a Phillies player testing positive regardless of Sunday.

With reports showing as many as 17 positive test results for the Miami Marlins, it serves as a wake-up call. This can really happen to anyone. The question on people’s minds is will this happen again? Will the league act any differently? What if it’s a ballclub that was slated to contend for the World Series?

The season may not be in jeopardy but it’s taken a tremendous hit. MLB is facing its first test since resuming operations, betting on keeping it contained using schedule alterations. The hope is the incident does not repeat itself. With impeccable timing, the latest news on leaguewide tests shows only the Marlins testing positive. One thing is clear: this is only the beginning of the challenges ahead for Major League Baseball. Its choices are being closely watched. What occurs here will ripple towards those hoping to play in the fall.

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Gabriel Garcia
Just an avid sports fan who happens to have a love-hate (mostly love) relationship with his local teams be it collegiate or professional and also happens to be a news junkie. Mix in outstanding optimism with cold realism and you've got yourself a balanced cocktail perfect for champions.

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