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Remember 2020, the year that life as we knew it was thrown a curveball we coined as COVID-19? When the pandemic was so troublesome that Major League Baseball conducted a 60-game “fake” season?
Well, the virus has not gone away, and it's thrown a wrench into the the gears of the first week of Major League Baseball's regular season.
The Nationals’ opening series against the New York Mets has now been postponed to a later date, out of “an abundance of caution” surrounding confirmed positive tests for COVID-19 within Washington’s organization.
All 30 teams across the league were scheduled to play ball on Thursday. It was going to be the first time in decades that all 30 teams opened their season on the same day, and the Nationals were slated to host the Mets in the primetime ESPN slot. But the pandemic had other ideas, forcing ESPN’s nightcap to be postponed and the Nationals to enter a “Mike Rizzo mandated quarantine”.
The process leading up to the postponement was eventful. The chaos started on Wednesday afternoon, when it was reported that someone within the team had tested positive for the virus. News later broke that the positive test would likely impact the Opening Day roster, and would also force five people (including a staff member) to enter quarantine due to close contact.
Throughout the evening hours, various players were – at least tentatively – recalled from the minor leagues. Infielder Luis Garcia came first, followed by left-handed reliever Sam Clay, catcher Tres Barrera and outfielder Yadiel Hernandez.
We can play the guessing game if we want. But up to now, nothing has been confirmed, aside from there being four positive tests among players and six more people under quarantine (five players and a staffer).
The most solid evidence regarding specific people we have – which is unsubstantiated, at this point –is Karl Ravech of Baseball Tonight supposedly “outing” Jon Lester as patient zero, coupled with the fact that a left-handed pitcher was promoted, and that there are players with close ties to Lester who play at each of the other three positions where promotions occurred on Wednesday. But again, that’s all hearsay and should only be treated as such.
To that end, Rizzo stated on Friday that he does not intend to reveal the names of the players who have tested positive and/or are still subject to contact tracing.
The Nationals were lucky last season. To my knowledge, no one on last year’s team – nor the 2021 roster – was directly impacted by COVID-19 during the season. While the disease can often pop up at seemingly random times despite reasonable safeguards being taken, Washington’s players and executive personnel should be applauded for staying as safe as they did. But the harsh reality is that no one is out of the woods just yet.
There’s no definitive answer to when the Nats will open their season, but it won’t be any sooner than Monday, presumably against the Braves, because that’s what the schedule says, for now. After the Braves series, Washington has an off day on Thursday, followed by a three-game set against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. But none of these games will happen unless the virus is contained by then, which last year’s trials and tribulations would indicate might be difficult.
At this point, it’s fair to assume that the season will start without the Nationals’ full cast of characters. There’s a good chance that the four players who were promoted on Wednesday (and likely more) will open the season with the big league squad. How long it stays that way will be taken day-by-day.
The state the world is currently in isn’t ideal, and the same continues to apply to the Nationals organization, the MLB and the sports community.
But with time, this too shall pass.