(The following is a complete work of fiction.)
Dream with me for a second:
Baseball is back, baby! It’s opening day at Dodger Stadium, and though the seats are empty, (uh, except for the bottom half of the roster sitting six feet apart in the field level), the dugouts are full of Dodgers and Giants, staggered and sitting or standing on clearly marked Xs.
DJ Severe is blasting the beats, and the jams echo around a hollow stadium. Soon it’s time for the anthem, and the Boys in Blue are lined up down the third base line. ALL the way down the third base line, zig zagging six feet apart, with hats off and hands on their hearts. Even though it’s a piped in recording (can’t risk an outside singer) on this day of all days the anthem sounds sweeter. There’s more than a few sniffs and misty eyes by the time the last notes echoes.
Over the loudspeakers, fun. blares, declaring that we are young, so it’s time to set the world on fire. The lyrics aren’t as…fun…any more but whatever, who cares? Because when fun. is playing, that means Kershaw is on the mound.
Finally, finally, it’s tiiime for Dodger BASEball!
Though the Giants didn’t have a regular leadoff man last year, it looks like Mike Yastrzemski is getting another shot at the spot. He steps up to the plate. Will Smith crouches, newly minted crew chief Dan Iassogna leans in behind him. Smith signals, Kershaw nods, and SMACK! A high fastball paints the outer corner for strike one.
Baseball has returned to Los Angeles. And thanks to the recent deal with AT&T, more (but not all) Dodger fans will be watching from home. The smack of the ball into the leather glove has never sounded louder. You can hear each pitch call from Iassogna. On the English broadcast, the occasional lapses in Joe and Orel’s narration is filled with the distant voices of Jaime and Jorge Jarrín.
Dieter Ruehle plays the organ while the screens running through the stadium twinkle with “Let’s Go Dodgers!” No one claps along.
Two more batters stand up after Yastrzemski and Kershaw puts all three down. Man, he’s looking good today.
For the Dodger half of the inning, the Giants send out starter Johnny Cueto. His changeup is as nasty as ever, and while the Dodgers bats work up the count and have a few long outs, the game moves on in a pitcher’s duel until the fourth inning.
Bottom of the fourth, Betts is up. He hits a bloop single right in between left and center field and the Dodgers have a man on base. Lux hits a hard and long out to right, but Betts beats the throw to second in a close play. He’s called safe at second by umpire John Tumpane and the Dodgers have their first real threat in place. Max Muncy steps up, works out a nine pitch walk, and the Dodgers have first and second.
Bellinger, batting cleanup as always, hits an explosive dinger into an empty pavilion and the Dodgers are up 3-0. Muncy and Mookie wait at home for Bellinger to cross home plate and they show off what’s going to become a new Dodger standard – the contactless homer celebration hip wiggle.
Out in the Right Field Pavilion, Bellinger’s first home run ball of the season rolls to stop against a dozen other baseballs, hit there during batting practice and not yet collected.
Belli runs back to the dugout, giving air high-fives from a safe distance. Up in the stands, the guys in the bottom half of the roster finish cheering and sit down once more. Are they really part of the game or just the only audience available?
Dan Iassogna wipes off home plate, and Corey Seager is up to bat. He hits a long ball into left field, sliding into second and beating the tag. Once more Tumpane throws out his arms and the Doubles King plants his flag on second for another year.
Up comes Justin Turner. The Giants bullpen is starting to murmur. Cueto is starting to wiggle harder. Turner hits a solid ball into center that’s caught by Yastrzemski, but Seager tags and makes it to third before Evan Longoria can get his glove down.
Two outs in an already magical Dodger fourth. Cueto is pulled and Giants reliever Trevor Gott steps in.
The Chain echoes through the empty seats as A.J. Pollock steps up to the plate.
In the Dodgers dugout, the phone rings. Dave Roberts answers it. He listens, then his eyes swing out to third.
Gott gets Pollock on a particularly nasty fastball after six pitches and the inning is over, but the damage has already been done. Dodgers lead by three going into the fifth.
Heading back to the dugout, Seager is stopped by Dave Roberts from a safe distance away. Seager looks incredulous, then worried, then resigned. He heads straight for the tunnel, no stops, no looking at anyone.
Kiké Hernandez reaches for his glove.
Roberts calls over Dan Iassogna, who then calls in the rest of the umps. They stand in a socially distant circle while looking at notes. The official scorer is called up.
Gavin Lux, Max Muncy, Will Smith, Clayton Kershaw, Giants Wilmer Flores, Buster Posey, Longoria, Cueto, Gott, and home plate umpire Dan Iassogna are all dismissed from the field.
Up in the booth, Joe and Orel receive the word. The stadium is so quiet that listeners can faintly hear Jaime relay the same information in Spanish. Corey Seager has tested positive for COVID-19, even though he hasn’t expressed any of the symptoms. The men also dismissed from the field were all involved with direct plays from Seager, either from a ball thrown or in a close contact tag. Giants catcher Buster Posey was tagged out by Seager in the first inning, and home plate umpire Iassogna stood next to him for four innings already, not to mention being within breathing distance to Seager during his two at-bats. Posey has been throwing a ball back and forth to starter Cueto and reliever Gott. Catcher Will Smith has been crouching next to Iassogna and throwing back and forth to Kershaw.
Just like that, ten players and one umpire are now in a two week quarantine.
In addition to Kiké, Chris Taylor and Edwin Rios take the field. Reliever Ross Stripling is on the mound with Barnes catching. The Giants are back at the top of their order, and once Tumpane gets in his gear and the umps position themselves for a three man formation, the game is ready to begin again with Yastrzemski at bat and Yolmer Sánchez on deck in place of Flores.
DJ Severe blasts the White Stripes. Barnes throws down the sign. Strip nods. The game continues.
Now, would it happen that dramatically? Would a player really be pulled from the field if the news came in during a game? Would all the most recent catchers and home plate umpires really be pulled if a batter was tested positive? Are pitchers at risk from an infected batter via a thrown ball? Would the parameters be that strict or would minimal contact be allowed to pass despite the risk?
With a 24-hour testing turnaround and 1,500+ persons to test, there’s bound to be a few close calls and perhaps even a few that slip through the cracks. In the span of four innings, a single player – one that is presenting as completely healthy with no symptoms – can potentially wipe out almost half of the field of both teams for weeks at a time.
That’s one game from one team with one asymptomatic infected player. And it doesn’t even take in to consideration any family members/staff/roommates/clubhouse surfaces an infected player might come in contact with.
And a two week quarantine is the least of the trouble a player would have. If they came down with symptoms, players are looking at anything from a dry cough to hospitalization. Even patients with relatively mild symptoms are seeing reduction in lung capacity. Other patients have developed blood clots, digestive problems, kidney and liver issues, some are at higher risk for stroke. The truth is, we just don’t know what COVID-19 does to the body long-term.
This fight is not about money. This fight is about the realities of the barriers of testing, safety protocols, and keeping social distance in a game where one ball is thrown between players and players must occasionally touch each other with either glove or ball to advance the game.
This is about players already not in control of where they live or what team they play for being told that their lives are not as important as making money and the contracts they signed are only as good as the owners feel like.
Even if it were about money, it would be about appropriate compensation for risking their lives so fans have something to watch for two hours, so that the MLB can sell ad time and $200+ jerseys and still claim losses.
It sucks that there’s no baseball. It sucks that a brand new Dodgers Stadium sits empty and waiting. It sucks. But there’s things that suck much worse than no baseball.
There’s a reason player contracts have restricted activities clauses in their contracts. It’s reasonable to ask a highly-paid athlete to not put their body in peril for a good time. No player is immune to injury or sickness or even food poisoning. Risk happens every time a player steps on the field, heck, every time they get out of bed. There is such a thing as being too cautious. But if owners can ask players to reduce risk to their body through curtailing their off-the-field activities, then surely players can expect the same expectations from owners for safety on the field as well.
Until there is a reasonable amount of assurance that no player will destroy their life and possibly the lives of several others just by throwing and catching a ball, the MLB has no business being in play.