MLB's Low COVID-19 Positivity Rate is a Great Start, but the Race is Far From Over
Fans of Major League Baseball received some of the best news all year on Friday when MLB announced a 1.2 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 after initial intake testing.
MLB and the Players Association announced only 38 positive tests of the 3,185 total samples taken, 31 of which were players. An even greater sign is only 19 of MLB's 30 clubs turned in positive tests. The Texas Rangers have only one confirmed positive test so far. LHP Brett Martin tested positive for COVID-19 after undergoing intake testing and is having mild symptoms.
While the official return of baseball might qualify as the top seed for baseball's "good news" in 2020, it was very contingent on how intake testing went throughout MLB cities. If several teams had an outbreak, it might have shut the whole thing down again. These numbers were significantly lower than almost anyone expected. By comparison, the NBA announced Thursday that 25 of 351 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since testing began on June 23.
Many speculate that the baseball season would not be able to be played in its entirety, or even get started in the first place. In an effort to keep the season alive, there will be a number of critical restrictions that will make the game look and feel very different. This will not be baseball as we know it in 2020.
High-fives? Not allowed. Handshakes? Nope. Spitting?! Not a chance. A lot of the game's charm will be absent this year, making it a difficult adjustment for a vast number of players.
“Personally, I think it’s going to be the high-fiving and the handshakes. I’m the one to have handshakes with everyone before the games and joking around. I think that’s going to be the hardest thing to not do during the games," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said on the first day of workouts.
"I know that I need to make that change. Especially over the next few days and the next few weeks, it’ll be really important for me to get myself used to avoiding high-fives, the hugging, the joking around, and being close to each other in the dugout. Knowing that, it’s not going to be easy, but that’s what I need to make an adjustment on for us to be safe and to maintain our health.”
The 60-game season is being defined as a sprint throughout baseball. It's a very different game than the 162 games that normally hog our televisions on a nightly basis for six months. In order for this sprint to get off the starting blocks, the initial intake testing would need to be a success. Obviously, everyone wanted zero positive tests, but only 1.2 percent of players and staff testing positive is a great start.
Now, it's about maintaining it. One known positive test in Rangers camp so far is a great sign. However, if our society has learned anything over the course of this virus, the moment you relax on health and safety protocols is exactly when COVID-19 can derail every plan in place, spreading like wildfire.
"If we're waiting on a wake up call until right now, we've got a problem," Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said Friday. "I hope for all of us that wake up call was months ago if you follow the stories that are going on around the country and around the world. I don't think our players are necessarily viewing it that way."
As of Friday, the Rangers were still waiting for 14 players to be cleared before they could participate in team workouts. 42 players worked out on Friday while Brett Martin is the only positive case of the 57 players on the Rangers 60-man roster. Any positive tests cannot be announced by the club without player permission.
From the outset, Daniels' mindset going into the season was not if someone would test positive, but when. Now that they've had a positive test, the Rangers' commitment to the strict protocols will be paramount. And not just now throughout camp, but every single day.
"It’s going to take a lot of diligence," Daniels said last week. "A lot of that can be an inconvenience in the moment, but that’s all they are: inconveniences. They aren’t things that are hard to do. We are going to remind guys of that."