COVID baseball

Do We Love Baseball Enough To Make Sure We Can Keep Playing?

There are written rules and unwritten rules and sometimes they jumble together and now we’re in a pandemic and the Marlins are infected and Kevin Kiermaier is hugging up on his Rays teammates and everything is going to hell.

Man, Florida is setting a horrible example for the rest of us.

Let’s start with Kiermaier, who on Sunday offered a natural response after beating the Blue Jays with a two-run triple in the 10th, embracing teammate Jose Martinez and manager Kevin Cash, and high-fiving pretty much everybody within reach. That’s awesome. That’s baseball.

It’s also plain dumb.

“It was a heat-of-the-moment thing for me,” Kiermaier said in a Tampa Bay Times report. “I don’t regret it one bit, I really don’t. I knew what I was doing. … I’m one of those guys where I’m trying to do everything in my power to keep myself motivated and the others around me, and I want everyone to always remember how much fun winning is.”

Boy, is he right. Playing baseball is fun. Watching baseball is fun. But we—all of us—have entered into this agreement to do the right thing by our country by trying to keep COVID exposure to a minimum. MLB set up protocols as a prerequisite for returning to play for one simple reason: Arranging games and travel for large groups presents a significant risk. If those involved do everything they can to mitigate the risk, then maybe—maybe—the league can pull off a season.

But now we have reports that the Marlins entered the stadium in Philadelphia for last weekend’s series in large groups rather than incrementally, as recommended, and that their adherence to mask protocols in the dugout was significantly lacking. One can only imagine how they behaved behind closed clubhouse doors. And now we hear the barely believable news that they decided to play after they found out about their positive tests.

One thing is sure: Players in that clubhouse were either indifferent, or thought that they were immune.

They’re not. And now, for the time being, anyway, they’re not playing at all.

So when Kiermaier behaves as if his game-winner occurred in a place without a killer virus in the air, it helps him feel good about things. But here’s the catch: It’s not about him, it’s about doing all he can to insure that the season can continue, not to mention setting an example for everybody watching from the outside.

As a nation, there’s no way to fully reopen our economy until the coronavirus is under some semblance of control. Major League Baseball has leaned against this reality by manufacturing a bubble inside which it hopes its participants can coexist with something approaching normalcy. But the only way it works is if everybody agrees to the ground rules.

MLB is willing to flaunt common sense to make this season happen, but it also recognizes the fragility of the platform on which its near-future rests. Maybe the schedule can survive a bunch of Marlins coming down with COVID, while the rest of the roster decides to play games despite clear exposure. Maybe it can survive Kiermaier’s hugs and high-fives, or the fact that umpires during that game, including plate ump Vic Carapazza, opted against wearing masks.

One thing is certain, though: It can’t survive much more. We’re less than a week in, and, with the Marlins stuck in Philly and multiple games postponed, baseball is facing its first crisis.

Baseball matters to Kevin Keirmaier. A lot. And it should. But if the people on the field can’t bring themselves to give this pandemic the gravity it deserves in the service of playing as many games as possible, maybe it just doesn’t matter enough.