Will teams play ball? Why things may be OK, and how they might not

The News Tribune - - Sports - BY SHAYNA RU­BIN (San Jose) Mer­cury News

Ma­jor League Base­ball un­veiled a big sur­prise Thurs­day af­ter­noon: a sched­ule for the 2021 sea­son.

Not 2020, 2021. And it came a few weeks ear­lier than it would in a non­pan­demic-mud­dled year, too. It’s un­clear why MLB felt the need to book their cal­en­dars next sum­mer when the coro­n­avirus tra­jec­tory and im­pact could not be more of an un­known.

It seemed odd to plan for some­thing more fa­mil­iar when the most un­fa­mil­iar, un­prece­dented type of base­ball sea­son is still hang­ing pre­car­i­ously in the bal­ance.

There are two weeks un­til the sea­son is sched­uled to be­gin. Will it hap­pen?

Here are rea­sons to be pes­simistic and op­ti­mistic that we’ll see a World Se­ries this Oc­to­ber.

PES­SIMISM: ONE SLIP-UP CAN CAUSE DIS­AS­TER

Let’s start with the bad news. Get it out of the way.

Short­ened or not, start­ing a base­ball sea­son dur­ing a pan­demic is a tall task. One skim through the 100-plus page health, safety and new rule man­ual MLB and MLB Player’s As­so­ci­a­tion agreed-upon details shows how com­pli­cated the rules are.

Ev­ery­one in base­ball needs to be on board 100% to fol­low the rules, be­cause dis­as­ter is one slip-up away.

A’s pitcher Jake Diek­man, who’s at an el­e­vated risk be­cause of his ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, high­lighted that truth when he slammed MLB for not pre­par­ing ad­e­quately for the ini­tial round of test­ing that re­sulted in mul­ti­ple teams – in­clud­ing the Hous­ton Astros, Washington Na­tion­als and San Fran­cisco Gi­ants – hav­ing to can­cel their work­outs. Most of the A’s took tests on Fri­day and, af­ter ship­ments des­tined for the lab in Utah sat stalled at SFO, didn’t get their re­sults un­til a day af­ter their re­port date.

“There’s a lit­tle part in ev­ery­one’s mind that thinks this is go­ing to be shut down,” Diek­man said on a call with re­porters.

“They might not say it, but there’s a lit­tle bit of fear in ev­ery­one’s head that it might hap­pen.”

For this sea­son to func­tion, the most es­sen­tial mov­ing piece is the test­ing process. Play­ers are tested ev­ery other day, and if the re­sults aren’t re­turned in the timely man­ner promised in the pro­to­cols, then the back­log could cause costly de­lays dur­ing a sea­son al­ready cut way short. What if an en­tire se­ries needs to be post­poned be­cause of a test­ing back­log?

Diek­man’s safety is of con­cern, but he hopes he can use his plat­form to push the league to cre­ate more safety net under all this: More trans­par­ent test re­sults or an­other test­ing lab to re­lieve pres­sure on the des­ig­nated lab in Salt Lake City.

If glar­ing holes within the test­ing process aren’t re­solved, and safety does be­come a con­cern, it’s pos­si­ble com­pli­ca­tions be­come too oner­ous for the sea­son to con­tinue.

Then there is the very real fear that the virus could in­fect and spread within base­ball. On Fri­day, MLB said 13 play­ers and four staffers tested pos­i­tive af­ter work­outs started, to­tal­ing 58 play­ers and eight staffers to test pos­i­tive so far. Some play­ers have al­ready opted out to elim­i­nate doubt – in­clud­ing San Fran­cisco Gi­ants catcher Buster Posey, who with his wife, Kris­ten, adopted twin girls born pre­ma­turely.

Ma­jor League Soc­cer with­drew its sec­ond team from the “MLS Is Back” tour­na­ment af­ter nine play­ers from Nashville SC tested pos­i­tive. FC Dal­las was with­drawn ear­lier in the week when 10 play­ers on that team tested pos­i­tive.

The fragility of the MLB bub­ble re­quires ev­ery sin­gle player, coach and staff mem­ber to be dili­gent for 66-plus days.

OP­TI­MISM: PLAY­ERS, COACHES WANT THIS TO WORK

Even with the ini­tial hic­cups, play­ers – par­tic­u­larly around the A’s – seemed only dis­ap­pointed and not nec­es­sar­ily de­spon­dent. Diek­man, though frus­trated, spoke out be­cause he wanted fixes to be made, not be­cause he felt the at­tempt to start a sea­son was des­tined to fail.

Be op­ti­mistic that a sea­son will go on be­cause ev­ery­one who is opt­ing into the sea­son, it seems, is ded­i­cated to­ward mak­ing it work.

A’s short­stop Mar­cus Semien took it upon him­self well be­fore the team came to­gether to re­it­er­ate to the front of­fice that he would en­sure the play­ers fol­lowed pro­to­col. They were tak­ing this se­ri­ously. Lead­ers will emerge to keep play­ers in line and re­mind them that the sac­ri­fice is tem­po­rary.

“We talked about this with the group to­day. If you see some­thing that isn’t fol­low­ing the pro­to­cols, I have no prob­lem re­mind­ing some­one to put their mask on,” Semien said. “It’s not me be­ing a stick­ler, but ev­ery­one un­der­stands it’s im­por­tant. We know that with the test­ing sys­tem we have right now, it’s known we don’t get the re­sults right away. So we have to be as safe as we can at all times.”

“You can get ev­ery es­sen­tial item de­liv­ered to your house. If you can’t do it for 90 days, I honestly don’t know if I re­ally want to talk to you,” Diek­man said.

“Ev­ery­body has a re­spon­si­bil­ity. We un­der­stand that,” Semien said. “Com­ing to the Bay Area, you re­al­ize right away how life is here. Ev­ery­one is wearing a mask on the field. Things are sim­i­lar in the club­house, maybe more strict in the club­house. But when you go out in the pub­lic, you see ev­ery­one wearing a mask six feet apart, you’ll re­al­ize that I need to start prac­tic­ing if my home­town didn’t have it.”

A’s man­ager Bob Melvin de­liv­ered a message to the group to get them on the same page, safety-wise, but said he is en­cour­aged by the play­ers’ ini­tia­tive.

“They’re on it al­ready, they’re com­ing to me,” Melvin said.

DARRON CUM­MINGS AP

A’s pitcher Jake Diek­man, who’s at an el­e­vated risk be­cause of his ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, slammed MLB for not pre­par­ing ad­e­quately for the ini­tial round of test­ing.

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