How the Coronavirus is Affecting the Camaraderie of Baseball

Everywhere you look, there it is. The epidemic that’s taking the entire world by storm in its idiosyncratic condition. The Coronavirus is a scare like no other, even in its early stages. This fear is felt across many communities, but the impact it has, and potentially could have, on the lionized world of professional sports is noticeably snowballing into the unthinkable.

More formally known as COVID-19, the virus is spiraling out of control as more and more countries are being affected. The number of U.S. cases is growing and, without proper government control, that number is likely to continue to rise. Due to this outbreak, many sports leagues across America–and the world– have taken measures to ensure their players’ best interests and health. Including the NHL denying any press access to team clubhouses, Nippon Professional Baseball delaying their season, to the Serie-A–Italy’s premier soccer league–suspending their season due to the rapid spread of the disease in the countries Northern region. Even the NBA and MLS are taking their own actions to prevent further spreading of the virus.

Now, MLB is taking its ride on the carousel. Despite recent promises of no immediate press access limitations, the league has joined forces with the NBA, MLS, and NHL in a statement released Monday: “After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting. These temporary changes will be effective beginning with tomorrow’s games and practices.”

“We will continue to closely monitor this situation and take any further steps necessary to maintain a safe and welcoming environment,” the statement read. Both the NBA and MLB don’t have current plans to alter their respective schedules but will take further steps, if necessary.

Some players have been encouraged not to sign autographs or interact closely with fans, while others are doing by choice. Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, for example, has been sweeping past fans, explaining he’s sorry and can’t sign due to the health crisis. This isn’t just frustrating for fans and players, however. The media is taking a huge blow from the new rules instated, and many cant perform their job as journalists without the usual admission they receive.

I wanted to get a grasp of how baseball writers have been affected by this edict, so I reached out to a few of the ones that do it best. Zach Buchanan, D-backs reporter for The Athletic, gave his two cents on the situation. “I can’t think of a single story that I’ve written and really been proud of that wasn’t a result of the hours and hours spent in the clubhouse from spring training through the end of the regular season,” he stated.

“Good stories come from trust between writer and subject, and that trust needs time and regular interaction to develop…In the clubhouse is where you get unique ideas. It’s where you bounce those off players and where they morph into something more insightful than you thought they’d be.” Clearly, the narrative style writing that is used by Athletic writers starts with the interactions between players and media. If there’s no connection, no friendliness, there’s no story. Just bland, tasteless stuff that has no sentimental value.

As Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic put it, “Stories like the Astros scandal broke because players felt comfortable confiding in reporters.” The fans want more all-access content. For a game that’s lost its interest among the younger generation, MLB is constantly striving to connect with the “fans” who call the simple batter to batter, out to out contest “boring”. Most recently, with a stretch of Spring exhibition games trying different “Mic’d up” situations in an experiment for possible future methods of this old game-young fan-base reciprocity.

The severity of the current situation is understandable, but as most reporters ask, what dangers do members of the media pose that team personnel (such as trainers, umpires, chefs, batboys, etc.) don’t? These staff members do as much traveling and outside contact as writers do, yet they are still granted to be in close proximity to the players and coaches.

Another argument to be made is how more important are the players than the fans and media that they are subject to more protection? Not to say they shouldn’t be treated with extra care and caution, but everybody that plays a part in the day-to-day upkeeping of the game should be handled with great regard. Without media, there is no public outreach for the game. Without fans, there is no game at all. LeBron James, of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, expressed he wouldn’t play if no fans were present to watch the spectacle. He says he plays for the fans, and again, without fans, what’s the point anyway?

It’s safe to assume most players feel this way. Additionally, some aren’t too troubled with the virus’s circumstances. Said Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura, “Everyone in this clubhouse isn’t really too concerned about it.”

What’s next for baseball in the following weeks is on everyone’s mind, but, for right now at least, preparing for the season to begin is more vivid in the heads of ballplayers. Said Hiura, “We’re just focused on getting ready for the season, preparing ourselves to play in a couple weeks and whatever ends up happening, happens.”

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