Friday, July 3, 2020

It Will Be Different, Not Easy

With baseball summer camps opening up today, there have been a few stories coming across my feed about how different everything looks with the safety protocols in place. Baseball as we know it won't exist in 2020. It has been replaced by Pandemic Baseball, where everything looks different, sounds different, and can be taken away from you at a moments notice on the whims of a virus that only creeped into our consciousness about 6 months ago.

Jeff Passan had a piece at ESPN today about some of the challenges ahead. According to Passan, at some point today MLB will announce the number of positive COVID-19 tests from all of the teams around the league. However many there are, these players, coaches and other support personnel will all start off the festivities quarantined. There will undoubtedly be more positive tests as the season goes on.

Note: As I was writing this post word has come out that there have been 31 players that have tested positive, along with 7 other staff members. This is a lower number than has been speculated upon, in his ESPN piece Passan said that "dozens" of positive tests were expected. So this can be looked at as relatively good news.

There is some pessimism that baseball will be able to pull this off at all, particularly as infections continue to rise across the country. There is also cynicism that you can get a bunch of young baseball players to act in the best interests of each other, particularly when any compliance level below 100% risks allowing COVID-19 into a locker room.

Passan provides details on the type of testing that MLB will be doing, and the precautions the league will be taking to ensure against false positive results. It will be hard enough to keep teams intact and on the field without losing players that aren't actually infected. As Passan states:
In order for there to be any chance baseball works, the testing must be almost unimpeachable. As hard as that is, it should be the easiest part because at least MLB controls it. The league does not control local municipalities or state governments or any of the other entities that can create policy limiting gatherings or closing stadiums or ostensibly neutering whatever chance baseball has at returning.
Given the concerns, it's not a surprise that some players have already chosen to opt out of playing this season. And more may choose to do so as baseball continues to try to restart. In The Athletic, Fabian Ardaya quotes Angels great Mike Trout on his continuing doubts about playing:
"Honestly, I still don't feel comfortable. I don't want to test positive and bring it back to my wife. I've thought hard about this, and I'm still thinking about this. This is a tough time, a tough situation everyone is in."
This isn't some hardball negotiating ploy on Trout's part. His wife is pregnant and due in August. I could imagine someone like Trout, already on the fence, deciding that the risks of playing are too great if a number of players start testing positive going forward. Trout wants to play, which is why he elected to go to training with his club. I'm sure there are other players in the same boat, electing to play but watching warily how everything progresses.

With all of the challenges of making it to the season and then surviving it, Joel Sherman at the New York Post thinks that hanging an asterisk on the eventual champ would be "just plain wrong." Between the drastically compressed season, the numerous changes to the familiar routines of the players, and the challenges of staying a step ahead of the virus, Sherman believes the level of difficulty has been ratcheted way up for the eventual champion.

Sherman has a point, and I wouldn't be one who will claim that the eventual champion has somehow had it easy. Still, I can't accord the eventual champ - even if it's the Mets - with the same achievement as over a century of previous champions. They had to navigate a marathon season, then survive a win or go home tournament, to earn the right to call themselves champions of baseball. It's that marathon of a regular season that weeded out teams that just couldn't stand up to that challenge. The challenge this season will be very difficult, but 60 games isn't 162, and I just can't place a 2020 championship on equal footing with teams that survived the marathon and won it all.


So the Mets signed a Venezuelan pitcher who brings 100 mph heat. As the piece in the Post points out, the Mets have assembled some interesting pitching options in their system. It's nice to have another reason to look forward to the future. I can only hope that the team finds some way of getting these kids some development this year. I know, I'm a broken record, but I want these kids to have the best chance possible to grace the grounds of Citi Field someday.

I'm out of here, I'll try to post tomorrow on the actual holiday as long as I can find something of interest to write about. As always, thanks for some of your time today. Please stay safe, stay well and take care. Happy Birthday, America!

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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