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Is MLB ready to launch season in the COVID-19 era?

Major League BaseballYesterday’s schedule releases dominated local headlines, but other developments on the COVID-19 front, including three practice shutdowns and several high-profile players expressing more concerns, are leading many to question whether MLB can pull off a 2020 season.

The Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals all called off practice after the teams did not receive results from tests taken last Friday. At least these tests were performed: we’re entering a period where demand for tests is outstripping capacity, with many cities and states scaling back the availability of testing. States like Arizona have done through their stockpiles of testing supplies and are now coming up short daily. And other sports are finding out that operating during these troubled times is too much of a challenge: In the controlled MLS tournament set for Disney World’s Wide World of Sports, FC Dallas was forced to withdraw after 10 players and a coach tested positive for the coronavirus.

Several players and team front-office personnel were critical of the current testing schedule, including Mike Rizzo, President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, who issued this statement:

“Per MLB’s protocol, all players and staff were tested for Covid-19 on Friday, July 3rd. Seventy-two hours later, we have yet to receive the results of those tests. We cannot have our players and staff work at risk. Therefore, we have cancelled our team workout scheduled for this morning. We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families. Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.”

MLB’s response (curiously, not issued via the normal social-media and MLB Pressbox accounts):

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend,” MLB said. “The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned. Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays.

“We appreciate the great cooperation from the players as well as the hard work of the Clubs and many internal and external staff members under these challenging circumstances. The process has not been without some unforeseen difficulties, which are being addressed with the service providers that are essential to the execution of the protocols. It is important to be mindful that nearly all the individuals have been tested as planned.”

Cubs star Kris Bryant also criticized the testing regiment, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that MLB has failed to offer as many tests as originally agreed to in the deal launching the 2020 season:

“What we agreed to was testing every day,” he said. ‘‘We have had guys here that showed up on Sunday and hadn’t gotten tested again seven days later. And then you don’t get the results for two days, either, so that’s nine days without knowing. And I think if we really want this to succeed, we’re going to have to figure this out.

‘I wanted to play this year because I felt that it would be safe and I would feel comfortable, but honestly? I don’t really feel that way.”

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ David Price and the Braves’ Nick Markakis and Felix Hernandez announced their plans to skip the 2020 season out of COVID-19 concerns. They join players like Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Leake in sitting out the year. And, given concerns raised by the likes of Mike Trout, they are not likely to be the last. The most eloquent reason for walking away from baseball came from Ian Desmond, who announced he would retire from baseball and devote his time to youth baseball.

With daily news about the spread of the coronavirus impacting the sports-business and facilities industries, it’s more important than ever to stay up with the latest news in the venues industry. That’s why we launched a Venues Digest newsletter focusing on coronavirus information across the ballparks, arenas, stadiums, theater and performing-arts worlds. For now it will appear daily, and for now it will be free of charge to industry professionals. Sign up here.

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