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Will coronavirus risk keep Cubs, Cardinals out of London? MLB ‘monitoring’ multiple areas of concern

Indications are the status of that two-game series in June is part of MLB’s internal discussions involving precautionary measures in the face of the growing pandemic.

Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish says he is “really worried” about the coronavirus risk.
Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish says he is “really worried” about the coronavirus risk.
John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Before spring training ever started, Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish talked to a team official about his fear of foreign journalists carrying the new coronavirus to Arizona with them.

He still hasn’t gotten a response to ease those fears and closely follows news reports about the disease’s spread and global hot spots.

“I’m really worried about it,” he said Tuesday morning.

Cubs union rep Kris Bryant said players haven’t received an advisory from the union. But Major League Baseball has assigned a task force to monitor developments and precautionary measures, and on Tuesday sent a memo to all 30 teams with a list of updates and recommendations.

MLB, which is in contact with the NBA and other sports leagues, as well as health organizations such as the CDC, has yet to establish coronavirus-related policy or travel restrictions. But indications are the Cubs-Cardinals series in London in June is a subject of internal discussion as MLB plots a course of action ahead of the regular season, which starts in three weeks.

“I feel like with everything right now, this entire situation is fluid,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Things are changing not week to week but day to day. I think that right now, there’s probably some acceptance that we’re on standby for changes, be it schedule or travel or whatnot.”

Hoyer wouldn’t specifically address the scheduled series in London on June 13 and 14. (The Cubs also have a rare road trip to Toronto scheduled in August.

And neither Hoyer nor other baseball officials would address hypothetical situations should the COVID-19 virus spread beyond the known clusters and cases, such as nine reported deaths in Washington State and at least two diagnoses in Maricopa County, where the Cubs, White Sox and 13 other teams train.

At least one Italian professional soccer match was played last week in an otherwise empty stadium, other Italian matches have been postponed, and International Olympic Committee officials have discussed postponing or even canceling the Summer Games in Tokyo depending on the spread of the virus over the next month or two.

The Cubs already were forced to address the issue before MLB’s first communiqué when two Italian minor-leaguers were told to stay home until further notice rather than travel to the United States for spring training and endure a required quarantine period.

Darvish, a native of Japan who has homes in Texas and the North Shore, is following news reports closely enough to know that South Korea, Iran and Italy are the hot spots right now for growth of the virus. He canceled two media events in January, just ahead of spring training, over health concerns, agreeing to pay hefty cancellation fees in both cases — including $10,000 to get out of a 10-person paid event with fans through his highly popular YouTube channel. It cost him another $1,500 to cover the cancellation of a scheduled TV interview.

“I told them this is not good timing,” said Darvish, who said he can’t stop thinking about the fast-spreading strain, for which there is no vaccine. “Always. It’s going to happen. Because a lot of guys are coming from China, Korea, Japan.”

Bryant, five weeks from becoming a first-time father, worries about how easily this virus is spread through human touch and droplets that land on surfaces from coughs and sneezes.

“You’re playing in front of 40,000 people in a bowl, basically,” he said. “And people want to get autographs and stuff like that. You just don’t know where people have been or what they’ve touched. It’s scary.”

The MLB memo addressed the risks of players signing autographs and advised them against handshakes. The Cubs and other teams are said to be discussing potential autograph policies to take the decision out of the players’ hands.

“Major League Baseball’s definitely on top of this, and we’ll take our lead from them,” Hoyer said. “But certainly, we have internal discussions going on around areas that are of concern around our ballpark that we would talk about.”

That’s for the safety of both players and fans.

“There’s definitely legitimate concerns,” Bryant said. “Baseball’s great, but people’s overall health is way more important.”