In our haste to get sports back during a pandemic so something, anything, can begin to feel normal about our day-to-day lives, we seem to have forgotten one thing. The players that we yearn to watch are not unemotional robots, programmed to perform for us.
Rather, these are normal people. Highly skilled at their craft, but people nonetheless. And guess what? They have families that worry about them, they share the same fears we do and many of them rightfully feel a sense of trepidation about returning to work while the coronavirus continues to spread throughout much of the country with no vaccine to stop it. Twins catcher Mitch Garver did not hesitate to share his concerns on Monday.
“We don’t know anything about this (virus),” Garver said during a Zoom video conference. “This is only six or seven months old in the United States, really. There’s not enough information out there for us to feel completely safe, and it feels like a lot of guys are going out there with the idea that they’re going to get sick and everything is going to be fine when it’s over. But we don’t know, right? I don’t know. I don’t think doctors really know the affects it can have on symptomatic versus asymptomatic people.
“People with underlying conditions. We don’t really know. It’s almost like you can go out there and you roll the dice and see what happens. It would be terrible for something to happen to somebody under these circumstances. I think (Washington reliever) Sean Doolittle said it great: Sports is a reward for a functioning society. Sports is like a positive thing. Sports is supposed to be an addition to people being not sick and businesses being open and life moving on as normal. But we’re in a weird spot right now.”
Garver deserves credit for not trying to be a tough guy and instead providing an honest answer about a difficult situation.
The Twins and MLB’s nearly fourth-month absence came to an end last week when teams began summer training camps to prepare for a 60-game regular season that was put in place despite the ongoing pandemic and the fact that commissioner Rob Manfred and the Major League Players Association spent much of their downtime fighting over money.
It became clear Monday that more time should have been devoted to how the testing for COVID-19 would work. The Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals reportedly cancelled workouts because of the failure of MLB to able to get results in a timely manner from its testing service and lab. The Oakland A’s reportedly also had testing delays.
Evening Judd: Let's not dismiss Mitch Garver's concerns about playing during a pandemic. #MNTwins
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) July 7, 2020
Timely testing is an absolute necessity for every sports league hoping to return or begin play in the coming weeks. There will be no confidence that any league will get through its season if testing becomes an issue.
There already is a growing number of major league players electing to opt out of the 2020 season, which will begin on July 23. The Twins’ opener will be the following day in Chicago. Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis, who is 36 years old, decided to opt out on Monday. Part of the reason was a discussion he had with Atlanta star first baseman Freddie Freeman, who tested positive for COVID-19 and reportedly is dealing with a fever and other symptoms.
Among the other players who have elected to sit out the season are Atlanta pitcher Felix Hernandez, Dodgers pitcher David Price; Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman; and Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond.
Garver, 29, is coming off a season in which he established himself as one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, batting .273/.365/.630 with 31 home runs and 67 RBIs in 93 games. He is sitting at two-plus years of service time and will be eligible for arbitration in 2021. Despite his success in 2019, Garver is due to make a team-friendly $620,000.
While Garver might not feel comfortable playing this season, he also doesn’t want to lose his chance at a big pay day. “I think if service time and money weren’t an issue you would see more guys opt out,” of the season, he said. “But guys want to get that year of service time. … The only way you can opt out is by taking away that service time and money. There’s a lot of people that are in that boat as well. …
“(That’s) a big part of my decision. More so, service time. I go into arbitration after this year, so if I were not to get a full year of service time, I’d play another year in 2021 under the league minimum and I’d be in my age 30 season. So I think everybody is going through their own scenarios in their heads.”
Garver said he has adjusted to wearing a mask, the kind that covers his nose and mouth, when he’s not on the field and the days of sitting in the clubhouse and talking baseball with teammates are over for the time being. Instead, players are urged to get dressed and get outside as quickly as possible. So far, two of Garver’s teammates have tested positive for COVID-19, but that was during the intake process so Miguel Sano and Willians Astudillo were quickly put into quarantine.
So how confident is Garver that MLB will complete the 60-game season in which he has agreed to play?
“It’s so hard to tell right now because we’re seeing all these things come up, whether it be testing flaws or positive tests coming back,” he said. “I’m sure there are some false-positives out there. I’m sure there are false-negatives, there has to be, there’s no way that this test is 100 percent. Those are things that we’re all just going to have to be finding out as we go. Sixty games looks pretty good on paper, but when you go through it day-by-day it gets more and more difficult to kind of see the end of the finish line.
“There’s a ton of players out there quoted saying this but it almost feels like you’re waiting on bad news. You’re just waiting for somebody’s camp to break out. You’re waiting for travel restrictions to be shut down across the nation. You’re waiting for a second wave where things become unplayable and sports take a back seat. We’re kind of going day-to-day right now, making sure that we’re ready for the given day and looking forward to that.”
And worrying because, in this case, the unknown is a very real thing.