By Frank Pingue and Amy Tennery
July 27 – Just four days after beginning a truncated coronavirus-delayed season, Major League Baseball encountered a serious obstacle on Monday with the postponement of games scheduled in Miami and Philadelphia due to COVID-19-related concerns.
The Miami Marlins, who opened their season on Friday in Philadelphia, were scheduled to return home on Sunday ahead of their scheduled Monday home opener but put off traveling after a number of their players tested positive for the virus.
The Philadelphia Phillies were scheduled to host the New York Yankees on Monday but that game also was postponed as the Marlins players were recently in their stadium. The Yankees, who played in the season-opening game last Thursday in Washington, completed a three-game series with the defending World Series champion Nationals on Sunday.
MLB said in a statement that the games were postponed while it “conducts additional COVID-19 testing” and that members of the Marlins team traveling party were self-quarantining in place while the league awaits the results. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with professional sports worldwide, delaying the start of seasons, forcing the cancellation or postponement of major events, pushing the Summer Olympics planned for Japan back by a year and leading to major questions about health risks for athletes and others.
The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League are scheduled to resume their pandemic-interrupted seasons later this week. U.S. collegiate sports also are in flux, with some conferences scrubbing fall competition and others struggling with how best to proceed.
According to an ESPN report, eight Miami players and two coaches tested positive after the latest round of testing on Sunday. That came after four Marlins players received positive test results during the team’s trip to Philadelphia.
Prior to their season opener, the Marlins were in Atlanta last Tuesday and Wednesday for exhibition games.
“The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these unchartered waters,” Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in a statement.
“Postponing tonight’s home opener was the correct decision to ensure we take a collective pause and try to properly grasp the totality of this situation,” Jeter added.
Jeter said the club has conducted another round of testing for players and staff members, and the team will remain in Philadelphia pending the results of those tests, which were expected later on Monday.
Unlike the NBA, which has assembled its teams in a restricted campus at Disney World in Florida, most MLB teams are playing in their usual stadiums and following a schedule designed to limit travel.
However, the government of Canada barred the Blue Jays franchise from playing its home games in Toronto, citing the health risks posed by players and staff traveling to locations in the United States with large numbers of coronavirus cases. The Blue Jays are due to play most of their “home” games in Buffalo, New York.
“This is a super-slippery slope,” Victor Matheson, a specialist in sports economics who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, told Reuters.
“One of the problems with Major League Baseball in particular is that they play so many games, which means that anything that knocks your team out for any sort of reasonable quarantine period is a huge problem in terms of scheduling,” Matheson added.
The very first game of the season was played in Washington last Thursday just hours after one of the young stars on the Nationals’ roster, outfielder Juan Soto, was held out of the Opening Day lineup after testing positive for the virus.
According to MLB’s operations manual for the coronavirus-delayed season, team members who test positive must have two negative tests taken at least 24 hours apart before they are allowed to return to team facilities.
MLB had originally planned to open its 162-game regular season in late March but decided to postpone it because of the health threat posed by the pandemic, eventually opting for a condensed 60-game schedule that kicked off last Thursday.
The National Hockey League is due to resume its season on Saturday with an expanded 24-team playoff format at two sites in Canada. The NBA is scheduled to resume its season on Thursday, playing at a single site at Walt Disney World. (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery in New York Writing by Will Dunham Editing by Matthew Lewis)