By Mario Ritter Jr.
22 July 2020
Professional Baseball usually starts in April. But the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus has forced the cancellation of almost all sports – even the national pastime.
This month, 30 Major League Baseball teams from 28 cities are planning to start a shortened 60-game season with no fans in attendance.
Public health experts have voiced a number of opinions about whether Major League Baseball's plan can succeed.
The first two games will take place between the Yankees and Nationals in Washington, D.C. and the Giants and Dodgers in Los Angeles on July 23.
"Baseball games can work," said Dr. David Hamer, a professor of public health at the Boston University School of Public Health. "I think it's feasible."
Dr. Amesh Adalja, who works for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland has concerns. "There are certain sports that are higher risk versus lower risk," he said.
"Baseball," he added, "is sort of an intermediate risk.
However, Dr. Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, warns: "It could be a disaster."
Seattle Mariners' Mallex Smith, left, and Dee Gordon, right, wear masks as they enter the dugout, Monday, July 20, 2020, during a "summer camp" baseball scrimmage game in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Testing and other measures
Some experts are hopeful for the baseball season because of the nature of the game. Baseball involves less contact and risk than basketball, American football or hockey. However, players and their families will have to carry out measures to avoid getting infected away from the playing field.
The National Basketball Association is playing all of its games in one place, Orlando, Florida. The National Hockey League will only have games in two Canadian cities. But, baseball teams will travel around the country.
Players will be tested every 48 hours. Masks, covering the mouth and nose, and social distancing, staying about two meters apart, will also be required – except on the field.
There will be additional restrictions. Players will be banned from spitting, licking their fingers or eating sunflower seeds. Mascots will not be permitted to approach players.
Baseball officials have made rules for air travel, bus travel, private cars and hotels. They have given guidelines calling for avoiding contact with people outside the baseball world.
The players have prepared with two weeks of camps and the results appear hopeful.
With its current testing program, Major League Baseball says only 0.4 percent of tests have shown infections since June 27. That is far below the national average of 9 percent.
But there have also been problems. Delays slowed testing around the July 4 holiday weekend. And, so far, all but two of the 30 teams have had at least one person infected with the coronavirus.
But the preventive measures and low infection rate have led many observers to be hopeful. "That's a good starting point," said Hamer of Boston Medical Center. He has advised other professional sports teams.
Testing is very important to Major League Baseball's plan. The organization is carrying out about 10,000 tests weekly. The league is using private laboratories to process the tests to avoid placing too much pressure on public testing centers.
Experts are not worried that traveling teams might endanger communities. The groups will be relatively small. They also will use private transportation. Observers note that if there are a lot of infections, it will likely be from players getting infected in the community from social contact.
Delayed professional baseball seasons have already started in Taiwan and Japan.
Crowds at games?
Owners of the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Houston Astros have said they hope to have limited-attendance games by the end of the season.
But Binney of Emory University says that is the one way professional baseball could present a serious health risk – by permitting fans to attend the games. Binney said the idea was "completely unreasonable" until a vaccine is developed.
Binney added that such a move would add risk to public health and only help, in his words, "owners and stadium authorities."
But possibly the most troubling problem is not knowing what will happen.
"I don't think you can completely quantify exactly what the risk will be," Adalja said.
I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.
pastime –n. an activity that you enjoy doing during your free time
feasible –adj. possible to do
certain –pronoun particular members of a group
versus –prep. connecting two possible choices
intermediate –adj. in the middle of two extremes, in between
epidemiologist –n. a person who studies disease spread and control
mascot –n. people, animals or objects used as symbols for a group or team and are thought to bring luck
approach –v. to move or become near or nearer to something or someone
camp –n. a place where athletes train before the beginning of a season
stadium a very large usually roofless building that has a large open area surrounded by many rows of seats and that is used for sports events, concerts, etc.
authorities –n. (pl.) people who have power to make decisions or enforce rules
quantify –v. to find out something in a way that can explained often with numbers