MILWAUKEE — Already a game defined by rates and probabilities, Major League Baseball knew there was a likelihood that once it took the show on the road there would be some positive COVID-19 tests, and that the tipping point on the viability of this season would be how teams reacted, and how quickly.
The Cardinals have been thrust onto the fulcrum of their sport.
Two Cardinals players tested positive for the novel coronavirus, driving the team into complete isolation Friday at their hotel in Milwaukee and leading to the postponement of Friday afternoon’s game at Miller Park against the Brewers.
The Cardinals learned of the two positive tests around 11 p.m. Thursday, after an off day, and by 6 a.m. Friday morning had told players to remain in place and not leave the hotel. The Cardinals’ entire traveling party went through two rounds of testing Friday — including a rapid-result test conducted by the Medical College of Wisconsin — to determine by Saturday if the contagious virus had infected more players.
Given the Miami Marlins’ 21 positive tests in the past week, a second team caught in the blaze of the virus would force MLB to consider the immediate future of the season.
“I guarantee you this is just another — another — loud wake-up call,” said John Mozeliak, the Cardinals president of baseball operations. “What we saw earlier in the week from Major League Baseball was very real, and now when you have something that hits your home clubhouse — people are aware. … Baseball players are creatures of habit. They kind of expect this to look like 2019, when it’s not going to be. The teams that adapt the quickest will probably survive it.”
He added: “It’s obviously creating a lot of anxiety here.”
Major League Baseball originally had 15 games scheduled for Friday night — but three were postponed, and one-fifth of the 30 teams were inactive because of COVID-19.
The Marlins had an entire week of games postponed because of the spread of the virus, and the Phillies had their week upended by playing against Miami in the midst of the positive tests.
On Tuesday, the commissioner’s office revealed that over the previous four days, 6,400 tests had been administered beyond the Marlins’ club. There were no new positives for the other 29 clubs. On Friday, MLB and the union revealed that 21 of the 29 positives since the start of the regular season belonged to Miami, and only two players outside of the Marlins had positive tests — both Cardinals, both on Wednesday.
Infected players seek privacy
The two Cardinals players have exercised their right to medical privacy and asked the team not to reveal their identities.
The Cardinals hoped to learn late Friday the results of their rapid tests, and receive confirmation Saturday from the tests raced to Major League Baseball’s lab. The game against the Brewers still was scheduled for Saturday night, and MLB has announced a doubleheader — with each game lasting seven innings, a rule adopted Friday — for Sunday at Miller Park. All of that hinges on whether the Cardinals have contained the spread.
“It’s clear this virus is highly contagious and while we have protocols in place, they aren’t fail-proof,” said Cardinals relief pitcher Andrew Miller, who serves on the players union’s executive subcommittee. “We hope the protocols limited or prevented the spread to other players. Most importantly, we are concerned with the health of the players who have tested positive. This is nothing to take lightly and health and safety is paramount.”
The Cardinals intend to have several players travel from their alternate-site camp in Springfield, Missouri, to Milwaukee — by road, not by plane — to be available this weekend. Mozeliak acknowledged that the team could play shorthanded Saturday. The two players who tested positive can be immediately placed on an injured list.
Guiding its actions is the expansive contact tracing the team, led by assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez, did after learning of the positive tests Thursday. The Cardinals had to retrace the steps of the players with positive tests, identify players they had been in contact with, and also send word to the Minnesota Twins, who hosted the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Cleveland Indians, the team that used visitors’ clubhouse at Target Field in Minneapolis on Thursday after the Cardinals left.
The clubhouse had been deep-cleaned after the Cardinals’ departure. The Twins received rapid tests Friday. The Cardinals are less interested in how the players were exposed to the virus than who was exposed to them. That will help determine how long it might take for the players to be cleared because recent exposure would mean tests Friday won’t reveal what manifests until Sunday, or later.
“That’s being factored into it,” Mozeliak said. “The problem with answering your questions is nobody understands exactly what the incubation period is. How far back do we need to go? Clearly, prior to us traveling to Minneapolis we were home. We felt like were in a pretty secure place. It’s probably something that may have even occurred there. Trying to understand connections or contacts is critical.”
Workout, golf on Thursday
The Cardinals had some players work out at Miller Park on Thursday, prompting a scouring of the visitors’ facility there. Other players remained at the hotel. A few golfed.
Mozeliak stressed that the team is being instructed to avoid restaurants, bars and other indoor places with crowds. Those in the group were not confined to their hotel rooms until Friday morning, and then for as much as the next 26 hours.
MLB and the Brewers saw the Cardinals’ swift moves to lock down and begin testing as the reason the weekend series could resume, and even be completed.
“I think we’re going to do what’s smart both for the players’ health and our goal is to play baseball this year and see this all the way through,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said. “Decisions are made with that context. It’s not necessarily a negative thing when a game is (postponed). … If we’re not smart and safe then we’ll fail. But we’ll do everything we can not to fail.”
The two players with positive tests will continue to be tested daily, and they must have two negative tests spaced 24 hours apart before beginning the process to return. The players also must not have a fever for 72 hours and complete at least one blood test for the virus antibodies.
As a result of the Marlins’ exposure to the virus, MLB instructed every team to name a COVID-19 protocols compliance officer on the road. Mozeliak has taken that duty for the Cardinals.
The two positive tests met the Cardinals at the second stop of a three-city trip — their first trip of the 60-game season. Friday marked the end of their first week in this shortened season, and already they rested on the game’s inflection point, a teetering example of the virus’ veto power.
That prompted a question asked of Mozeliak after his Zoom call with local reporters, about whether they had to prepare for two months of these flashpoints and if trying to play through a pandemic was right.
“We are trying to do what is right, but clearly there are new challenges when trying to play during a pandemic,” Mozeliak texted late Friday. “These challenges are not insurmountable, but understand they are challenges. Baseball has always brought hope to people and hopefully we are doing that when we play.”