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After Coronavirus Outbreak Among Miami Marlins, Is It Safe To Play Ball?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The fear is that we're going to be saying it was fun while it lasted. Baseball is back. Watching has been a great distraction, right? But just days into an already shortened season, the league is dealing with a coronavirus outbreak. Major League Baseball officials have postponed three games so far, and we should say this is not the only league announcing changes. The NFL has canceled preseason games, and all of this might not bode well for schools and other institutions hoping to reopen. Let's talk about the latest in the baseball world with NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: Let's start with what's happening with the Marlins. What's the latest on this outbreak?

GOLDMAN: Well, four members of the team tested positive this past weekend while the Marlins were in Philadelphia for a series of games to open the season. Yesterday, that number grew to at least 13, mostly players, and that's when the decision came down to postpone games last night and tonight in Miami and last night's game in Philadelphia against the New York Yankees out of caution because the outbreak happened in Philly.

Now, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said they were expecting further test results on the Marlins and Phillies late last night. We're still waiting on those, and those results are expected today. And they'll really determine the next steps. Manfred says if the results are acceptable, the Marlins can resume playing as soon as tomorrow in Baltimore. If they're not, we're possibly looking at more postponements at the very least.

GREENE: And then, taking it a step further, could we be looking at a whole season in jeopardy, or are we not there yet?

GOLDMAN: Well, we're not there yet. I mean, there are some people who say we are indeed in a crisis. Baseball is in a crisis. I talked to an infectious disease expert from UC Berkeley yesterday, Dr. John Swartzberg. He put it in medical terms, and he said the Marlins outbreak portends a very poor prognosis.

Now, Rob Manfred, of course, isn't paid to be a pessimist. He said on his weekly Monday call with Major League owners yesterday there was no talk of canceling the season or putting it on hold. Last night on MLB Network, he was asked whether an outbreak like the Marlins is baseball's worst nightmare, and here's how he answered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROB MANFRED: I don't put this in the nightmare category. We built the protocols to allow us to continue to play. That's why we have the expanded rosters. That's why we have the pool of additional players, and we think we can keep people safe and continue to play.

GREENE: I just wonder, Tom, how long optimism can last. I mean, we see how quickly this can spread on a baseball field, on a team. Like, is there a point where baseball might just have to shut things down?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. That's a good point. As with anything related to this pandemic, today's good news and optimism can change the next day, and Manfred acknowledges this. He said if a team loses enough players so it's completely noncompetitive, it could force either a partial or entire shutdown, and if an outbreak leaguewide posed a health threat, baseball would shut down again.

GREENE: Am I crazy? I mean, I thought baseball was handling this...

GOLDMAN: No.

GREENE: ...Really well, keeping the virus in check, and the season started. And I had a feeling that this one example of an organization was going to be able to move forward even in this pandemic.

GOLDMAN: You are not crazy. I would never say that. And a lot of fans weren't - you know, the numbers of positive test results were really low leading into the regular season. Baseball's health and safety protocols seemed to be working at the summer training camps where teams stayed in their home cities. Through the first weekend of the regular season, fans were loving having the game back, as you well know, even though it was kind of weird with those cardboard cutout figures behind home plate and the piped-in noise. Personal preference, David - stop with that already. Let us hear the chatter on the field.

GREENE: I'm with you.

GOLDMAN: But then teams started traveling, which was always a concern. Major League Baseball, unlike the NBA, the WNBA, National Hockey League, men's and women's pro soccer, is not in a so-called protective bubble, which Manfred said wasn't really workable. Now, because that - because of that, perhaps, the sport is having trouble, and that respite baseball provided this past weekend has given way to the harsh reality of the pandemic.

GREENE: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.