MIAMI – With six teams idled Friday by the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to union leader Tony Clark about the importance of players following the sport’s coronavirus protocols.
Manfred and Clark talked about what needs to be done to finish the season, a person familiar with the conversation said. The person who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
“Every player in this league better take a hard look at what you’re doing off the field, because what you do affects, more than just you and your team,” Chicago Cubs outfielder Steven Souza Jr. tweeted, hours after the St. Louis-Milwaukee game was called off. “Your decisions off the field will put all of our seasons in jeopardy this year.”
Milwaukee’s home opener was called off hours before the first pitch on Friday after two St. Louis players tested positive for COVID-19. On Saturday morning, another player and three staff members with the Cardinals have tested positive for the coronavirus, leading to another postponement in Milwaukee, according to a person familiar with the situation.
In other Saturday developments, the Miami Marlins received no new positive results in their latest round of coronavirus testing, a person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press on Saturday, but second baseman Isan Diaz opted out of the season. At least 21 members of the Marlins’ traveling party have been infected by an outbreak at the start of a season-opening trip.
Also, the Philadelphia Phillies said Saturday they had no new positives from tests a day before. Players were permitted to access Citizens Bank Park for staggered workouts beginning in the afternoon. The team hasn’t played since Sunday in Philadelphia but hopes to resume games next week.
The conversation between Manfred and Clark, first reported by ESPN, comes amid growing evidence that the spread of infection threatens to overtake efforts to play ball.
“Some things aren’t looking too good right now, but we have to play up to that point. Players are seeing what can happen,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said.
“The rest now is up to us and the virus,” he said.
Concerns have been expressed about lax behavior by players on the field – such as spitting or high-fives – and off. The scrambled schedule has also heightened doubts about whether the owners’ desire to play is realistic.
“Obviously, we saw the message. They sent a memo. Just be more diligent, wear a mask in the dugout when you’re not playing, what we’ve thought to be the rules all along,” Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Stephen Vogt said. “So it’s just like every other rule that MLB has for players – now it’s going to be enforced, so to speak. Just strongly encouraging.”
“Everything gets a little bit lax when you get in the game because the habits of what we’ve been doing our whole life takes over. When one of your teammates gets a big hit, you want to high-five them. You want to celebrate the way you’ve always done,” he said. “And the last thing I want to do when I’m trying to play and do my job is be worried about COVID, but that’s the times were in right now.”
Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said baseball is braced for curveballs, especially this year.
“We’re all committed, I believe – and I’ve talked to a number of players today – to finishing the season,” Attanasio said. “Insofar as we can continue to provide some enjoyment for our fans, I think that’s something we’re all committed to doing. … If we’re not smart and safe, then we’ll fail. But we’re doing everything we can not to fail.’’
Two weekend series – Nationals at Marlins, and Blue Jays at Phillies – were called off earlier. The Marlins were hit with a virus outbreak in Philadelphia that infected at least 20 members of their traveling party, and both Miami and the Phillies are sidelined for at least a week.
The schedules of the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles have also been scrambled a week into a season that had already been delayed and curtailed because of the pandemic, and now may be in jeopardy.
Cleveland players and staff talked about postponing Friday night’s game at Minnesota. The Cardinals had played at Target Field on Wednesday, a day before the Indians arrived.
“We just visited with everybody and just asked them to kind of visit amongst themselves and we would have more information as the day progressed. We met again at 3:30, I think, and it was a go,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Teams all around the majors are keeping tabs on the daily developments.
“That’s a concern of mine,” said Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who was out with the virus earlier. “I speak for the entire Rockies team – we want to go out and play. … Anything that pops up negatively, in terms of this virus situation, could hinder that. So yeah, I’m concerned. I would rather not see any more positive cases.”
The six idled teams Friday represented 20% of MLB.
“I don’t think there’s a person that thought that this would be seamless,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “We are being as safe as we possibly can, but we also understand that this virus is very strong and doesn’t have borders.”
For the week ending Thursday, MLB said there were 29 positive tests, a rate of 0.2%. Aside from the Marlins, there were eight positive tests for the 29 other teams, only two involved major league players.
Fans rooted for baseball to keep going, as did some businesses. In Milwaukee, J&B’s Blue Ribbon Bar and Grill was hoping for one of its biggest crowds since the pandemic began, with customers watching the home opener as it was played down the street.
Co-owner Jon Bliesner took news of the postponement hard.
“Really depressing,” Bliesner said. “Not happy at all.”
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