Soto's Positive Test Reveals MLB's Looming Risk On Opening Night
The Nationals announced LF Juan Soto tested positive for coronavirus just hours before the MLB season opener on Thursday, and the notice "stood as the defining news for both the defending champions and the sport," according to Adam Kilgore of the WASHINGTON POST. It was a "frightening reinforcement for the sport" that it is returning amid a global pandemic. This is going to be a "strange season if there is a complete season at all, and that oddity will be wrapped in the disquiet of players and staff put at risk of a disease the nation cannot escape" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/24). In N.Y., James Wagner notes Soto's positive test was a "stark reminder of the precariousness of playing amid the coronavirus pandemic." Nationals manager Dave Martinez indicated that team personnel who had the "closest contact with Soto were tested on Thursday morning and will be again on Friday." Yankees manager Aaron Boone prior to the game "reminded some Yankees players and coaches to be even more careful about being near their Nationals' counterparts." However, he said there was "no hesitation" about playing on Thursday. Boone: "We knew what we signed up for and we knew this was going to be a reality on given days. We’re doing a lot to be safe, but we understand that there are some risks that go with that" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/24).
FRAGILITY OF ENDEAVOR: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Diamond & Radnofsky write the entire episode "provided insight into the fragility of baseball’s carefully crafted protocols -- and how difficult it will be to avoid an outbreak of infection over the next three months" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/24). On Long Island, David Lennon writes everyone "should have been prepared for such a bombshell," as this exact scenario has "dominated any conversation about baseball for months now." However, when it "does actually become a reality, and to a player of that magnitude, the revelation is still jarring, on a number of levels." MLB "immediately has reason to fret over the integrity of this pandemic-ridden schedule." It also is "alarming that the Nationals were forced to carry on with Thursday’s opener, even though they had no idea how many others could be infected" (NEWSDAY, 7/24).
IS BEING CAREFUL ENOUGH? In Detroit, Mitch Albom writes Soto's diagnosis shows "how quickly teams can be punctured under COVID-19," as one positive test "cuts a hole in the bottom of the boat, and, if not arrested quickly, it can widen and sink the whole thing." It will be "interesting to see how hard a team comes down on a player for a COVID violation -- i.e. being spotted in a bar or going without a mask." But even if the players "follow every rule, they are still heading home to their households, which means every spouse, partner, child or visiting friend is part of baseball’s experiment, too." Albom: "That’s a pretty big Petri dish" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 7/24). In Boston, Tara Sullivan writes, "It’s great to see that baseball can be played, but so too is it fair to ask whether it should be played" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/24).
HOLES THAT NEED TO BE PATCHED: SI.com's Stephanie Apstein notes the Yankees-Nationals game "exposed yet another hole in MLB’s plan to complete the season safely." The game was delayed, and ultimately called early, due to rain. MLB has said that its priority is "limiting players’ time at the ballpark and keeping them outdoors when they are onsite." However, players "were forced to endure that rain delay, which most of them passed in damp clubhouses" (SI.com, 7/24)
IT'S BIZARRE, BUT IT'S BASEBALL: In Philadelphia, Scott Lauber writes the 60-game "sprint to October -- played according to 101 pages of protocols still has a decidedly house-of-cards feel to it." Lauber: "But baseball is back ... and that, by itself, is an accomplishment worth celebrating" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 7/24). In Pittsburgh, Michael Fuoco asks, "Are you ready for some baseball? With no fans in the seats, piped-in crowd sounds, significant rule changes, social distancing, players in masks, regular COVID-19 testing of players and staff, and a 60-game season played in 66 days?" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 7/24).