“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, it’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again, but baseball has marked the time…it reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
James Earl Jones’s iconic baseball speech from “Field of Dreams” could not be further from the truth today. As billionaire owners and millionaire players bicker about money, baseball reminds us how divided so many aspects of life are.
America’s favorite pastime was supposed to be the distraction we all needed this summer, it was slated to have the sports spotlight all to itself. While there is a new glimmer of hope that a shortened Major League Baseball season may still happen (perhaps beginning in late July), if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s don’t get your hopes up too soon. Instead of feeling like 1989, when we first heard “If you build it, they will come” it’s looking like a replay of 1994, when baseball broke the hearts of fans with a devastating strike that the sport still hasn’t fully recovered from.
It’s not merely the dollars and cents that stand in the way of a 2020 season. The numbers of positive COVID-19 cases continue to be a cause for concern in several states, including MLB hubs Arizona, Texas, and Florida. As a result, over the weekend, MLB decided to shut down and disinfect the spring training facilities of all 30 teams.
The panhandle state is also where 22 NBA teams are headed next month to resume their season. It plans to send all teams to Disney World in Orlando, where’ll they’ll play out the postseason in a bubble at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
As coronavirus cases increase, so do concerns that the NBA plan is not feasible. Florida added a record 4,049 new cases Saturday, which broke the previous single-day record of 3,822 set the day before. The state now has more than 100,00 total cases of COVID-19. NBA spokesman Mike Bass says the league is “closely monitoring the data in Florida and Orange County and will continue to work collaboratively with the Players Association.”
Additionally, the southeastern region has the world of college football on edge. Several high-profile programs in recent days have released disquieting numbers of positive coronavirus cases. The National Champion LSU Tigers confirmed at least 30 players are in quarantine due to COVID-19, while the Clemson Tigers announced 21 players were positive along with two members of the staff.
Pessimism has spread west as well, with Kansas State suspending all football workouts for 14 days due to COVID, Texas football announcing 13 positive tests, and UCLA players requesting a third-party health official handle COVID concerns because some on the team don’t trust head coach Chip Kelly will adequately protect them. The college football season is still more than two months away, but the situation looks worse by the day.
The NFL is reportedly still optimistic about playing an entire season despite what Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Fauci said last week, “Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall.” “If there is a second wave,” Fauci added, “football may not happen this year.”
The idea of the NFL going into a bubble is frankly ludicrous, with more than 100 players and staff on each team playing a four-month regular season spread around the entire country. The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer Allen Stills pushed back on Fauci’s assessment, saying, “We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled.”
Several players from the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys recently tested positive, including star running back Ezekiel Elliott. On his “Double Coverage” podcast, Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty said, “To think about somewhere between 53 and 90 guys in a training camp, it’s going to be insane.” “I think everybody’s nervous,” added his twin brother, Devin. The McCourty brothers are not alone. All players, coaches, officials, and millions of fans should all be very nervous about the return of sports.
The aforementioned James Earl Jones character Terence Mann painted the most idealistic picture of professional sports, but perhaps his most famous character is more apt for this moment in time. All of us had visions of normalcy this summer and fall, with a full return to sports as our favorite distractions. It seems, however, that COVID-19 had other ideas. As Darth Vader said, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”