Finally, after the seemingly interminable offseason, Major League Baseball will be back at the end of this month. Or will it?
Thanks to a deadly outbreak of coronavirus or Covid-19, baseball will begin, but baseball as we know it may change. In a concise time, coronavirus has infected more than 100,000 people in at least 90 countries. Fatalities, at 3,400 as of Friday, continue to grow at an alarming rate.
Other sports have made dramatic changes. China, the epicenter of the virus, has quarantined entire leagues and canceled competitions. Thailand, Taiwan, and other countries have followed suit. The Tokyo Olympics may even be threatened. In Japan, baseball games will be played in venues closed to fans, and South Korea has called off all games. One of the most notable competitions affected by the virus is the Italian Serie A soccer season as it was recently confirmed that it has been suspended until April 3.
In the United States, the LPGA has canceled significant events. The NHL has closed locker rooms to the media, and other leagues, including MLS and MLB, may follow. On March 4, MLB established a task force to stay ahead of the growing storm. So far, the league has no plans to cancel the remainder of spring training games or the start of the season. However, the situation changes from moment to moment.
MLB will regularly consult with the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control for advice on the fluid situation. Preventing the spread of the virus at ballparks and proper cleaning of clubhouses will take center stage. MLB recently recommended that players hand out signed cards or baseballs rather than give autographs and that players forgo the fist bump for an elbow bump.
Padres team physician Dr. Kenneth Taylor spoke to Padres players recently and advised the same routines recommended for all of us, including frequent hand washing of at least 20 seconds and avoiding touching one’s face. (Go ahead, try it. It’s harder than you might think.) Erik Greupner, the team’s president of business operations, issued a statement emphasizing the importance of keeping up on the latest information and emphasizing that so far, the risk in the region has been low.
However, the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, declared a state of emergency last month. The first U.S. cases originated in the Seattle area in Washington, and now the virus has spread to Southern California, having been identified in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
The risk to young, healthy ballplayers should be low, as the virus targets the elderly and ill. However, locker rooms resemble Petri dishes, and routine illnesses can spread in a flash. Fernando Tatis Jr. has been sidelined thanks to a garden variety flu bug and has just started working out again.
Padres baseball begins with a game against the National League West rival Colorado Rockies at 1:10 p.m. at Petco Park on March 26, and it may be one of the most anticipated seasons in years. The team has an ultimatum from on high to improve, and the team should have the players to do just that. Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack will have their rookie years behind them; Manny Machado should return to form in his second year; the addition of Tommy Pham has already changed the team dynamic, and first-time manager Jayce Tingler has not been shy about kicking some tail when necessary.
San Diego fans thirsty for quality baseball at Petco Park can’t wait for the season to open. With luck, the spread of Covid-19 will slow or even halt, and the stands will be full for the Padres’ first victory of 2020 on March 26.