Everyone needs hope, especially now, even if it’s a tiny dot of light at the end of a long tunnel. I don’t know if sports can provide that, but it can provide a sliver of normalcy, and that’s what most of us want right now. We’d like as close to normal as we can get, as fast as we can get it.
So baseball games without fans in the seats? Yes, please. No runs, no hits, no errors and nobody in the stands? No problem. It would be strange for a while, then we’d get used to it.
But a dose of reality: Does anyone really believe a season could be played without players getting infected with the coronavirus? And does anybody really believe the season wouldn’t be shut down at the first hint of a positive test?
Major League Baseball is considering a plan in which its 30 teams would compete at spring-training sites in the Phoenix area, as well as at the Diamondbacks’ ballpark, possibly as soon as May. Players, coaches and essential personnel would live in hotels away from their families.
If there’s a more miserable existence than being isolated with 25 major-league ballplayers for five months, it has yet to be invented. I know: You’d sequester yourself with 25 telemarketers if it meant millions of dollars in your bank account. But in the case of ballplayers, that’s a lot of video games, ornery personalities, hunting stories and pent-up, um, urges. If Phoenix-area bars were to open during the season, would you trust a libidinous teammate to continue watching reruns of “Baywatch”? And how soon before he brings COVID-19 to the clubhouse?
To rally the troops for ninth-inning comebacks, managers like to say, “All it takes is one.’’ One hit to turn the tide. And all it takes is one positive test to shut down the season again.
I want this to work. I find it hard to believe it can.
Players take infield practice before each game, touching baseballs that have been in the hand of the coach hitting to them. The players throw those baseballs to a first baseman, who also touches them. It’s a germfest out there. A pitcher and catcher touch the same ball often during the game. A batboy delivers balls to the umpire several times over nine innings. Et cetera.
And spitting! It’s what baseball players do between breaths. They spit saliva, they spit sunflower seeds and some still spit tobacco. They spit when they wake up, and they spit when they go to bed. It’s reasonable to expect that they’ll spit wherever they sit during games. It’s reasonable to expect that teammates will step on those expectorations, spreading whatever there is to be spread.
Little things we take for granted will come with question marks. The big things — one player sliding into another, trading sweat — seem like major stumbling blocks. I’m assuming teammates will be sharing clubhouse washrooms, showers and weight rooms. Who will be cleaning players’ hotel rooms? Serving food to them? Hard to believe those people will be cloistered from their families, too.
(I’m not worried about mound visits. Players have been talking through their gloves for years. It’s baseball’s version of N95 masks.)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it’s possible for pro sports to return in 2020.
“There’s a way of doing that,” he said on “Good Luck America,” an interview series from Snapchat. “(No fans come) to the stadium. Put (the players) in big hotels wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled and have them tested, like every week, and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”
Scientists in China have found that people infected with COVID-19 likely are spreading the disease for up to 2½ days before showing symptoms. Or, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, “an infected person can walk around feeling fine for more than two full days while spewing virus into the air, depositing it onto doorknobs and handrails, and sowing the seeds for future infections.’’
This brings us to the feeling of being stuck, which is one of the dark byproducts of the coronavirus. We can’t live our lives in the fear of something bad happening, but what if the odds are decent that something bad will indeed happen? Should we carry on anyway? Or should we wait for a vaccine, which might not be available for a year?
The nation is facing the same questions. When do we reopen society? Is there ever a point where the health of the economy is as important as the health of the citizenry?
Sports are being presented as a national balm to help us get through the pandemic. We know it’s really about the billions of TV dollars, but we don’t care. We want baseball back.
But how long can it last? Or, asked another way, anyone up for Esports?