EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan Zimmerman is a two-time All-Star infielder who has played 15 years in the majors, all with the Washington Nationals. With baseball on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, Zimmerman is offering his thoughts — as told to AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich — in a diary of sorts. In the eighth installment, Zimmerman discusses what his biggest concerns would be about resuming competition in 2020, starting with assurances about testing for COVID-19.
If we’re going to play a season, or a partial season, we’re the ones that are going out into the world in the middle of a pandemic, when basically the experts are saying not to have large gatherings.
Everyone’s like: “You guys should just go do it. Why not? It’ll be safe.” Oh, OK. Really? Tell me how it’s going to be safe, and then I’ll think about it.
There need to be assurances — not 90%; 100% — about health and safety for us and our families and everyone involved. Not just the players, but also the field staff, the clubhouse staff, the stadium staff, security people.
That is the No. 1 priority for me and for the majority of people, I would assume. The chances of someone getting the virus have to be very low for us to even start the conversation.
I love baseball and I know how much America loves baseball. But you know what I love way more than baseball? My family — and my kids being able to live a normal life because we missed baseball for one year, if that’s what ends up being the case.
So to me, daily testing is what you have to have. When you’re walking into the stadium that day, you need to know for a fact that everyone around is negative.
Even if we’re supposed to be quarantined, what if someone goes to a grocery store? Or a pharmacy to pick up a prescription? Or something like that? The third, fourth, fifth removed thing keeps getting bigger and bigger. Then, all of a sudden, I’m a healthy 35-year-old athlete who maybe gets sick but is asymptomatic, and I come home, and I have a 2-week-old baby who gets it. Maybe the baby gets over it without us ever knowing, but 10 years down the road, my kid’s lungs don’t develop fully? Who knows? We just don’t know everything about what this virus does.
At some point, we’ve got to be real about: What’s worth having baseball?
We’re talking about maybe a half-season. Let’s be honest: Whoever wins the World Series will face questions. Is it even really going to count this year if the champs only have to play three months’ worth of games and the postseason’s way bigger than normal? What if a team that never would have gotten in ends up winning the World Series?
We have to really also be careful about the product that we put on the field. People are going to expect to see Major League Baseball that they’ve seen in the past.
Can I prepare properly before games? What happens if we’re playing so many time a week that guys who throw 95 mph are throwing 88 mph by September? Everyone says, “The managers will take care of players.” When we’re playing four games in three days, Trea Turner and Juan Soto are going to play every single day, because there’s only 80 games and you’ve got to make the playoffs, because that’s where the money’s made.
Here’s something else: Is it going to be fun for the players? More than making the money, I still enjoy playing the game and being around my teammates. We’re not going to be able to go to dinner together? We’re not going to be able to hang out in the hotel? We’re just going to go from a hotel to the field and back and do nothing else for four months straight?
Everyone talks about how we’re grown men playing a kid’s game and that’s part of the appeal of sports. Is that going to be part of it still this year?
These are nitpicking things that some people would agree with — and some people would crush me and say: “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just get out there and play!”
The narrative is going to become about about money. It always is. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. But believe it or not, most of us still enjoy the heck out of playing baseball.
Before we dig into the economics, you have to think about this: All it takes is one person to get sick — or pass away, God forbid — and then you wonder why you did it.