The Fourth of July is normally symbolic with some of baseball’s notable moments throughout history. Among those moments are Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man On The Face Of The Earth Speech” but this year the date symbolized the sport’s attempt to return from an over four-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As 30 teams opened up summer versions of spring training, it was a Fourth of July and weekend like no other for the sport, which was hoping to actually resume play this weekend before contentious negotiations ended with the implementation of a 60-game season slated to start July 23 with the Yankees visiting the Nationals for a likely Gerrit Cole-Max Scherzer matchup.
It was an eventful weekend for various comments, the specter of positive tests for Covid-19 and the announcements of players electing to opt out of this season.
The weekend began Friday with Mike Trout expressing doubts about playing because of a familial situation. Trout’s concerns are for his wife Jessica, who is expecting a child and in a symbolic photo of the times, the Angels tweeted out a photo of Trout wearing a protective mask on his face during their workout Sunday.
“It’s a tough situation for everybody,” Trout told reporters via a Zoom call. “I talked to a lot of guys across the league and they’re texting me a lot. I’m not gonna name any names, but they’re all thinking the same thing: ‘Is this gonna work?'”
Trout’s consternation about playing came after camps began with Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross and Mike Leake announcing they would opt out. By Saturday, David Price and Felix Hernandez, who would have been National League pitchers for the first time announced they were opting out.
Those decisions were a day after MLB announced 38 of the first 3,185 people tested had tested positive though that did not include Charlie Blackmon and members of the Philadelphia Phillies, who were revealed to be positive in the time between the announcement of the season and the opening of camps.
On Saturday, more cases were revealed, with the most serious of them being Atlanta first baseman and noted Met-killer Freddie Freeman. While others such as DJ LeMahieu are asymptomatic, Freeman’s case is more severe as noted in a lengthy Instagram post by his wife Chelsea, who said her husband was experiencing body aches, headaches, chills and a fever since Thursday.
Freeman’s announcement came on the same day Miguel Sano and Salvador Perez were announced as testing positive and camps opened as cases nationally increased.
On Sunday, the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Mariners, White Sox and Marlins announced they had players testing positive.
Besides the talk of opt-outs and positive test result, there was a potentially scary moment Saturday at Yankee Stadium when a line-drive by Giancarlo Stanton knocked out Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka fell to the ground and taken to a nearby hospital to get placed in the concussion protocol
The footage went viral when it happened as the YES Network filmed it as part of its coverage. By the end of Saturday, Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge were upset at the footage being circulated as they made their opinions known in a pair of tweets.
Then on Sunday, there were significant voices expressing skepticism such as Andrew Miller, who is on the MLBPA Executive Board.
“I think there’s still some doubt that we’re going to have a season now,” Miller told reporters in St. Louis Sunday. “By no means is this a slam dunk. We’re trying. We’re going to give it our best effort, but for me to sit here and say 100 percent would be a lie.”
And in perhaps a damning statement and indictment of trying to play through a pandemic came the words of Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, who noted players have not received personal protective equipment.
“We’re trying to bring back baseball during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” Doolittle told reporters in Washington. “We’re way worse off as a country than in March, when we shut this thing down.
“Look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functioning society and we’re trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.”
At the moment baseball’s positive rate for Covid-19 is lower than other sports like the NBA and MLS, but it will face the major challenge in a few weeks.
Out of the leagues plotting returns later this month, it is the only one engaging in travel, doing of all of this while following the protocols outlined in a 113-page manual and this week may bring more positive test results due to a backlog of getting the results.
In the meantime, there will be the mix of bizarre sights of spring training in home ballparks, player and coach opt-outs and further skepticism that baseball can actually pull this off until it actually occurs.