Should the MLB follow through with the Arizona plan?
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball and the players union are making an ambitious attempt to restart baseball as soon as May, according to league sources including Jeff Passan.
The MLB and union have discussed a plan to centralize the entire league in Arizona. This would involve using every available ballpark in the state, specifically the ones used for spring training, and playing all games behind closed doors.
All the players would live in isolation in hotels and only travel to and from games.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I want to focus on two issues.
The first potential issue with this is significant. What if one of the players is infected with the coronavirus? Asymptomatic carriers are arguably more dangerous than those that show symptoms of the disease, and young people that have the virus tend to be asymptomatic.
A part of the plan says the players would be sitting in the stands 6 feet apart from each other during the game. That being said, the coronavirus can stay in the air for up to 30 minutes, according to a Chinese study. Assuming nobody gets substituted, 18 people make their way around the field during every game, and that is the absolute minimum.
That, plus holding a runner at a base, mound visits, bullpens, or any other event in the game where six feet between two people just isn’t possible could be the difference between a positive and negative test result.
When you pack that many people into a stadium, especially a smaller one that is usually used for spring training, the likelihood of the spread of the virus is still dangerously high.
Another issue is the mental health of the players at times like these. There’s the idea that players will isolate themselves in a hotel room from game to game and the toll of leaving their families behind during this crisis.
I don’t live in a mansion with a pool and a massive yard, but I can gladly say that I live in a place that I can move from room to room and if the weather is nice, I can go outside to my yard and kick a ball around, and if nothing else, at least I have that.
However, you take a team of 30 millionaires, many of whom have settled down and isolated themselves in
sizeable houses with in-home gyms, massive yards with all kinds of cool stuff they wanted for themselves and their family, etc., and force them into one-room holding cells until it’s time to come out and play baseball, the number of potential issues is endless.
I’m not a baseball player, but I’ve been in enough hotel rooms to know that I wouldn’t want to live in one for months at a time, even if it meant I got to play the sport I’ve made a living on.
It’s likely, however, that many MLB players would be willing to make that sacrifice. I know it’s easy for me to say I wouldn’t do it because it most likely isn’t a situation I will ever find myself in, but when you’re actually a player, the perspective and mindset is different from someone who isn’t.
Scott Boras, agent for many players in the league, is confident that players will want to take on this challenge.
“I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country,” he said.
The factor that will most likely lose a player’s interest, though, is the fact that they will be leaving their families behind during this process.
Almost every single time an athlete shows up on social media talking about this issue, they will say something to the effect of, “make sure you and your family are safe,” and there is a reason for that. It may seem like a formality and a de facto requirement to add “keep your family safe” in those messages, but so many athletes have been affected by the ‘rona.
Whether it be themselves or their families, players and coaches all over the world have been seriously affected by the virus. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola lost his mother to the virus. Many players across the world of sports have been impacted, from Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets to Paulo Dybala of Juventus FC in Italy, absolutely anyone can get it.
Major League Baseball players are not superhumans, they just happen to be insanely good at a popular sport and make lots of money because of it. There is no reason they or their families cannot be infected. For this reason, even if given the opportunity to show up in Arizona to play the game, it is within the realm of possibility that some players decide not to risk it for the sake of keeping their family safe.