Four days into MLB's season, there's chaos and a lot of hard questions for the return of sports

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

Four days into the Major League Baseball season and now … who knows? 

Fourteen members of the Miami Marlins organization, 12 players and two coaches, have tested positive for the coronavirus

The team, which opened its season in Philadelphia over the weekend, has remained in Pennsylvania, trying to make sense of it all. Monday’s home opener against Baltimore will not happen as scheduled, if at all. The Phillies will not host the New York Yankees as scheduled on Monday. 

In other words, chaos.

Already.

Some of it was inevitable. Without a bubble — or perhaps even with it — positive tests and flare-ups and postponements were going to occur. Anyone who didn’t think they would was delusional.

Did it have to occur this quickly though?

All of this is another warning sign for sports in general. MLB began and is now dealing with a crisis. The NBA is set to begin Thursday — albeit inside the strict confines of their compound in Orlando. NFL camps open this week. NHL players reported to their bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton over the weekend.

Can any of it really work? Can baseball?

A reported outbreak of positive COVID-19 tests on the Marlins has jeopardized MLB's season. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The unanswered and possibly impossible to perfectly answer question is how many positive tests is too many? One or two, sure, play on. What about 14?

Shut the team for a day? A week? Two? How many postponed or canceled games can a league deal with before the Jenga tower of the interconnected schedule becomes untenable?

Baseball is a sport where the kind of social distancing and safety precautions that might guard against this stuff seemed at least possible and perhaps even plausible. Baseball teams and leagues are operating fine in Asia — albeit with far fewer community cases surrounding them. 

For the most part, players are separated — both teammates and opponents. Dugouts have been extended into the stands. Masks can even be worn on the field and home run celebrations have become more creative with less high-fiving. There are no fans and limited stadium staff.

Still, it was always going to be about the small stuff. The clubhouse. The team plane. The natural slip-ups that come from trying to be vigilant 24 hours a day across the long haul of the season. 

Or in this case, the short haul even.

And this isn’t football, where games are once a week. Baseball is a daily grind, no time for anything but the pedal to the metal. 

Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers plays basketball, not baseball, but his story from over the weekend caused as much concern inside sports management as it did jokes outside of it. Here was a 33-year-old, longtime veteran who during an excused absence from the NBA bubble to attend a family funeral in Atlanta, couldn’t or wouldn’t help himself and his league. He wound up in a gentlemen’s club — claiming he was just getting takeout chicken wings, not that it even mattered. 

Baseball players are on the loose every day. They’ll be in the community, around family, bumping into who knows what, at who knows where?

Injuries are a part of sports, but sprained ankles aren’t contagious. This is an entirely different beast, no matter how many people want to ignore it.

There is a reason the Canadian government, which has far lower numbers of virus cases, wouldn’t let the Toronto Blue Jays participate in this experiment at home (the team had to move to Buffalo). It’s worth noting that Canada had no problem with the NHL’s bubble plan, however.

So can this season happen? If they couldn’t make it a week, can they really make it until late October? 

It’s one thing for the lousy Miami Marlins to get shut down in the beginning of the season. Maybe they are bounced out of the league for the season — the way Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League have seen teams shut down.

But what if one of these outbreaks hits on the eve of the World Series, ending everything? And why would anyone expect that it couldn’t?

The pandemic is here. It doesn’t care much for plans written on paper or cutout fans or promises to social-distance once you leave the park.

It all sounds good. 

This isn’t good. 

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