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Coping With Covid Remains A Sticky Wicket In Baseball

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Red Sox manager Alex Cora is sidelined after testing positive for Covid-19.Eric Kilby, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

By Dan Schlossberg

Just when it seemed like baseball was through with Covid, the virulent virus proved it wasn’t done with baseball.

Fans are back en masse — and unmasked — but teams are still coping with sudden losses because not all players, coaches, and managers have heeded the warnings and gotten their shots.

Just hours before opening their 2022 season at home, the New York Mets learned that outfielders Mark Canha and Brandon Nimmo would be unavailable because both tested positive — along with Buck Showalter’s bench coach Glenn Sherlock.

Other teams also lost players on the wrong side of the Covid protocols.

The Oakland Athletics placed six players on their Covid-19 injured list Monday. Other teams keep adding to their lists as well.

Worst of all, the New York Yankees nearly needed to play their nine road games in Toronto without Aaron Judge, their biggest star, and perhaps one or two other key players. But the recalcitrant athletes have since told manager Aaron Boone they got their shots.

Only yesterday, the Boston Red Sox revealed that manager Alex Cora tested positive and was even experiencing mild symptoms.

Boston had already revealed that it will be without several players when it comes to Toronto for a series that stretches from April 25 to April 28.

Starting pitcher Tanner Houck, who is one of them, told The Boston Globe last Sunday that he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and won't pitch during the four-game series beginning Monday. He would have started the second game.

Ontario bars unvacinated athletes from coming into the province — giving the Blue Jays an enormous advantage during its 81-game home schedule.

Toronto is probably the Beast of the East in the American League anyhow this year but playing opponents saddled with unexpected player losses only makes it easier for the Jays to turn into vultures.

It’s now been more than two years since the lethal virus shut down baseball even more completely than Rob Manfred did last December.

The date — March 12, 2020 — is one that will live in sports infamy.

When baseball resumed, the schedule was cut to 60 games, the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams, and cardboard cutouts replaced fans in the stands. Rules changed, salaries were reduced, and Zorro had plenty of company in the ritual of donning a facial mask.

Things were supposed to be back to normal this year but that was before Rob Manfred, Tony Clark, and the sides they represent couldn’t agree on anything — or even where or when to meet for negotiations on a new Basic Agreement.

The 99-day lockout killed most of spring training, confused the start of the season, and forced remaining free agents to find homes fast. The only thing that remained constant was the virulent virus. Like the game of Whack-a-Mole, it kept popping up with variations of variants more contagious than the previous ones.

Philadelphia has already restored its indoor mask mandate and other cities won’t be far behind. How that impacts baseball is uncertain but there are large events to consider, including the All-Star Game July 19 and Baseball Hall of Fame Inductions five days later. Will masks be required even though those events are outdoors?

Baseball may be back but it’s not quite the same — and may never be so long as Covid containment is part of the equation.

Media members must show vaccination records to pick up credentials at both New York parks and elsewhere around the majors. Players should meet the same standards.

The Blue Jays and Texas Rangers report 100 per cent compliance but most of the remaining teams don’t. And that’s a problem.

This is a health issue, not a political one, and the integrity of the game depends upon following science. Nobody argued against smallpox vaccine and nobody should refuse to get a Covid shot either.

It’s not just common sense but also an act of consideration in polite society.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Sports Collectors Digest in addition to Here’s The Pitch. He’s also written 40 baseball books. Dan’s email is ballauthor@gmail.com.

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