How do we, Braves react to Freeman’s positive COVID-19 test?

The Braves’ four positive tests announced Saturday show the safety protocols are working so far. But how do we grapple with sports during a pandemic?

Joe Patrick
July 06, 2020 - 8:44 am
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What was supposed to be a celebratory Fourth of July that signified baseball’s return turned sour when Braves manager Brian Snitker announced that four of the team’s 56-player pool, including perennial MVP-candidate Freddie Freeman, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Snitker also announced that Braves first base coach Eric Young has decided to opt out of the season, citing his status as a high-risk individual. He was the first publicly known member of the Braves organization to make this choice, though pitcher Felix Hernandez followed suit shortly after and outfielder Adam Duvall is also labeled as “high-risk” as a Type-1 diabetic. Opt-outs may happen at any time, so it’s possible (if not, likely) there are more to come.

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“He’s running a fever,” Snitker said about Freeman to media on a video conference Saturday. “Talked to him this morning. He’s not feeling great. So it’ll be a while before we can get him back.

"He's young and strong,” Snitker said later. “The biggest thing we want him to do is get right and get better… He's going to want to get back out there sooner than later.”

Freeman — along with projected closer Will Smith, Touki Toussaint, and Peter Kozma — all had tests conducted by medical professionals in association with Major League Baseball this week that returned positive. So far, Snitker said Smith and Toussaint are asymptomatic. MLB required that all players be tested before resuming team baseball activities, and only those who tested negative would be permitted entry to the facility. 

That means that these players became infected sometime prior to returning to playing baseball with teammates at Truist Park. Nick Markakis told media Saturday that he saw Freeman briefly during his intake screen earlier in the week (Markakis estimated from roughly 30-feet away, saying “he looked good.” These facts underscore what Snitker said just the day before while considering his own risk of exposure in continuing to manager the team during this health crisis.

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"I feel more safe in this environment right here than going to the grocery store and getting a gallon of milk,” Snitker said Friday. “Everybody's been tested.”

Immediately following this unfortunate news from Snitker was a predictable rash of fraught opinion on social media. But unlike the grocery stores I personally frequent, every single person at Truist Park this weekend has been temperature-checked and masked (aside from players while they are conducting baseball activities on the field) inside the stadium. It is undoubtedly as safe of a communal space that any of us could envision in the current moment. 

“It’s something we’re going to have to deal with. Everybody’s mentality is going to have to change,” Markakis told reporters Saturday. “Everybody’s routines — everything goes back to the mental aspect. It’s one of those things that we need to get through it together. It’s not just one person, we’re all going to have to do our part and make sure everybody’s safe.”

As where other leagues like the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer are inhabiting a singular “bubble” for the entire league to reside and operate, MLB is essentially creating “bubbles,” in which each team — aided by top-down resources from the league — is responsible for maintaining a safe working environment.

But in the midst of a pandemic “as safe as possible” will never mean 100 percent security, whether that’s in a bubble at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, Truist Park, or your local Publix. Friday, both Snitker and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson described this environment as “the new normal.” 

But the new normal isn’t just about wearing masks, or players and staff having to change their routines. It’s also about how all of us emotionally deal with news like we heard Saturday. The spectrum ranges from “Good, they’ll be healthy by Opening Day and immune for the season” to “just shut the whole thing down, it’s immoral.” 

Where each of us fall on that spectrum is different — something normal and healthy for a diverse population of people. But it’s important to consider something fundamental to all of this: The players and staff who are there have chosen to participate. Why they’ve made that choice — love of the game, social desires, earning a wage, or even a chance to work their way up the depth chart — is just as variable as our own opinions on sports’ current existence. So part of the “new normal” is an acceptance that everyone who’s made the choice to play, coach, or participate in any way has done so with autonomy that should be respected.

But don’t take my word for it, hear it from Swanson:

“We’re so fortunate to be able to be here, you know, still able to perform and do our jobs. I think that nobody’s lost sight of that during this whole thing. I’m very appreciative and blessed to be able to be back out here and enjoy spending time around people that I haven’t been able to see in a long time. So I’m very grateful.”​