This is a process that seems impossible to trust. Summer camp, baseball’s cutesy name for the initial reboot of the 2020 season, is only four days old and already it is obvious that this 60-game endeavor that is relying so heavily on lab results is having trouble lifting off.
Can it possibly be any fun to root, root, root for the home team when you can’t tell the players without the COVID-19 report? If so, what do you think of the Phillies’ chances so far?
Bryce Harper tried to break it down in a conventional way at the opening of camp by talking about the brutal task of playing only games against the National League East and American League East, a couple of heavyweight divisions that have produced the last two World Series champions.
“I think this year is definitely going to be one for the ages and I can’t wait,” Harper said. “I can’t wait to get out there and play our game. We have a great manager, a great clubhouse, a good pitching staff, and I’m really excited to get out there and get going again.”
This has already been a year for the ages and will remain so whether baseball actually makes it to opening day or not.
Harper said the above words Friday and as he said them, the Phillies had a long list of players unable to report to camp on time because they were in quarantine. Those players either had COVID-19 or had come in contact with someone who did.
We found out Monday afternoon that staff ace Aaron Nola fell into the latter category.
“I was just exposed to another person who had tested positive for the virus,” Nola said on a Zoom call with reporters after he threw his first bullpen of camp as thunder crackled and bolts of lightning struck beyond the outfield walls at Citizens Bank Park. “No symptoms or anything. But they wanted to take precautions being in an MLB protocol to stay home for seven days. I got testing. But they all came back negative. I never tested positive, so I’m glad to be here now.”
The Phillies are glad to have him back, too. Harper’s conventional view of the two divisions the Phillies have to play is based mostly on the powerful pitching staffs they will face, and it’s hard to imagine them matching up very well without Nola.
Second baseman Scott Kingery, center fielder Adam Haseley, and closer Hector Neris are still in the COVID-19 protocol and have yet to make an appearance at Citizens Bank Park.
Reports from the team are that nobody has been affected too seriously by the virus and it’s possible we see all three by the end of this week, which should give them enough time to get ready for the fan-free sprint that is scheduled to begin July 24 at home against the Miami Marlins.
As crazy as it sounds, the Phillies might be ahead of the curve because they might be able to flatten their ballclub curve before the season actually begins. They were, without question, the early antibodies leader in the clubhouse.
“It was weeks ago that we had a scare in Clearwater, and there were a number of people affected by that, and it was nerve-wracking for us because these were players we expect to play a substantial role,” manager Joe Girardi said after Monday’s workout. “Now that we are all together and being tested on a regular basis, my hope is that we can all stay healthy, and when we get these guys back we’ll be pretty whole. I think it could be unusual for some clubs to be whole when the season starts.”
It has been a brutal few days for the NL East champion Atlanta Braves. First baseman Freddie Freeman, arguably their best player, tested positive over the weekend, which was enough to convince outfielder Nick Markakis to pull out of baseball’s lab experiment.
“Just hearing him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough,” Markakis told reporters Monday. “It was kind of eye-opening. With everything that’s going on, not just with baseball but all over the world, it makes you open your eyes.”
And that brings us back to our original question. Is it even possible to root, root, root for the home team amid a nationwide pandemic? You might hate the Braves as a division rival, but beating them would seem awfully hollow if something really bad happened to a player and person as good as Freeman.
Maybe the Phillies, after getting hit hard by the virus a couple of weeks ago, will have a COVID-19 and home-field advantage on the new opening day against the Marlins, who reported four recent coronavirus cases.