MLB Players Face 'Tough Decision' as Return Nears

Rob Bradford
July 05, 2020 - 9:44 pm
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One foot in, one foot out.

That is the vibe being given off by those Major League Baseball players diving back into this 2020 season.

It would be unfair to paint the entire Boston Red Sox roster with such a broad brush, but it's not a huge leap of faith to suggest this isn't the kind of no hold's barred preparation a team would experience with less than three weeks until Opening Day. The unknown. The uneasiness. As much as it has been refreshing to talk simulated games and roster spots the last few days it is always being answered under that shadow. You know, the one the Nationals' Sean Doolittle brought to light in a Sunday Zoom interview.

"There’s a lot of players right now trying to make decisions that might be participating in camp that aren’t 100 percent comfortable with where things are right now," the reliever said. "That’s kind of where I am. I think I’m planning on playing. But if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health with all these things we have to worry about and kind of this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I’ll opt-out.”

It's the kind of question every Red Sox player has been getting as well, with their answers not exactly making it seem like tunnel vision for the upcoming oddity of a 60-game season is in the near future.

"Tough decision," noted Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez Sunday. "We have a baby, newborn. Next week is eight months. It’s a tough decision. I bring them with me here to Boston because I can’t live without them. We’re safe here with all the doctor here. We are in good hands. We’re better here than Florida."

"I think my love for the game I going to outweigh my fear of this whole thing once I get out there," added Red Sox designated J.D. Martinez.

So as we head into the first full week of Spring Training 2.0 what should we make of the well-meaning yet out-of-the-ordinary blueprint for a regular-season return? Let's just say we are coming up to a crossroads.

Perhaps we will look at David Price's decision to not play in 2020 as the ultimate fork in the road.

There is a case to be made that such a proclamation by the veteran pitcher is ultimately just the thing that will throw some other players off the fence and firmly on the side of sitting this one out. They see Price. They hear Price. And they agree with the notion that the health risks for any young family -- which may stretch just beyond the short-term -- simply aren't worth it.

Or perhaps the players settle into this new normal.

One day passes and then another and then another, and with each day MLB draws closer to actually playing in real games and doing so without the fears they might have come back to town with. The tests are being taken and the precautions morph into part of the routine. Baseball becomes firmly implanted in the front of everyone's minds with those COVID-19 fears pushed way, way back. Maybe. 

But certainly not now.

Not when so much doubt is in the air.

"These are tough decisions," said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke when asked about Price's chosen path. "I read about (Mike) Trout's decision and his comments yesterday and same thing. Here’s a guy I respect as much as anybody in the game and he’s got a pregnant wife and this going to be his first baby. Those are concerns that personally I'm not in that situation those are hard to make. It's hard to make when you know you’re one if not the best player in the game and you’ve got to decide on what the importance of and how safe he thinks he’s going to be through all this. And I heard a comment like, 'I'm waiting to see what happens,' and that's what we’re doing also. We’re waiting to see what happens with all this."

Unfortunately, there is currently no other way to look at it.

Not when so much of the nation is still painted with those red hot spots and every player's day begins with spitting 15 times into a vile for coronavirus-clearing.

Doolittle did a great job of summing up while talking through his mask: "Sports is the reward for a functioning society and we're just trying to bring it back even though we've taken none of the steps to flatten the curve ... We just can't just have virus-fatigue and think it's been four months, we're over it. It's been enough time. We've waited long enough. Shouldn't sports come back now? No, there are things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back."

Remember the days of worrying about teams cheating, long games, and banning shifts? Those sorts of conversations seem so unbelievably far away. For now, we will have to settle for the daily headcount followed by some live batting practice and maybe a glimpse up into a couple of players eating a meal outside their makeshift two-man locker rooms. Such is life.

Baseball is back ... for now. Sorry, that's as good as it gets for the time being.