With no beginning to the 2020 season in sight, Major League Baseball players are starting to wonder not only when they’ll get back on the field, but what it will take to get there.
Among the players searching for answers is Nick Ahmed. While speaking to reporters via conference call Tuesday, the Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop considered the viability of players wearing masks on the field in order to combat the coronavirus pandemic and safely complete games sooner than later.
“I’ll be up for anything at this point just to be able to play,” Ahmed said. “If they said, hey, you can start games, whenever it is, May 15 or June 1, but you have to wear masks, if that’s the only thing holding us back, then, sure, guys would do it.”
“As much as that would be extremely weird and strange, we’d be open to it,” he said. “Hopefully it wouldn’t have to last for a long time. But to get more games in and get more games on TV for fans to watch, we’re all for that.”
Ahmed’s comments highlight the angst — or perhaps even desperation — players are feeling to get back on the field.
The comments also bring about more complicated questions, such as would masks actually be effective in protecting the players — with or without fans in attendance — and where would the supply come from if MLB approved.
What inspired the suggestion?
Ahmed recently discovered a screenshot from a Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) intrasquad game that showed two players and a coach wearing masks.
This is quite a sight. The Lotte Giants, of the Korean Baseball Organization, are playing an intrasquad game right now. And a number of players on the field are doing so wearing masks.
The game is streaming live here: https://t.co/mFz3ssghPe pic.twitter.com/eeztu6QB6V
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 28, 2020
KBO teams are back preparing for the 2020 season after taking a coronavirus-related hiatus in March. Opening day was originally scheduled to take place on March 28, but will be pushed back until an unannounced date in April.
Unfortunately, we’re a much greater distance away from MLB games.
On Tuesday, the city of Toronto banned city-led and permitted events until June 30. While Toronto’s mayor later clarified the ban doesn’t directly impact Blue Jays games, it shows that major cities are expecting restrictions to continue into the summer.
There’s no telling how many MLB cities will extend restrictions and how teams will be impacted. That is why players are looking for solutions that might get them back on the field, even if they’re playing in empty stadiums.
Would masks actually help?
That has been the source of much debate recently.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization (WHO), says “there is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also reportedly weighing whether to advise everyone to wear a mask in public.
Given the constraints of a dugout, clubhouse and even team planes and buses, it would be difficult for players to practice social distancing. In that regard, masks may be more advisable. But weighing the benefits gained by hundreds of baseball players against the supply needed for more urgent cases would be another issue the league and players would have to consider.
Where would the masks come from?
MLB jersey supplier Fanatics recently halted operations to begin making masks and gowns to donate to hospitals in the fight against COVID-19. That’s the answer to who could supply MLB players with masks. But it’s the frontline health workers, the at-risk citizens and the family members of those exposed to the virus who need these masks.
Again, it would be difficult to justify pumping out hundreds, if not thousands of masks so that baseball can resume while hospitals and other healthcare facilities are running out of supplies.
Are masks a viable option?
At this point, baseball players wearing masks is not something that should be considered.
With COVID-19 cases still on the rise, the focus of everyone should remain on doing what is best to keep the virus from spreading. While we all miss baseball, there is more at stake than looking for ways to get games back on the field sooner than is necessary or at least considered reasonably safe.
That is not to discredit Ahmed’s suggestion or dismiss his eagerness to get back on the field. When baseball is ready to return, which we all hope will happen a few weeks from now, perhaps it’s something players should be allowed to consider. But that’s only when we’ve reached a point where there are far more urgent cases behind us than in front of us.
Let us know if you agree.
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