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Any more COVID outbreaks in MLB could end chance for baseball in Buffalo

The good news for baseball fans in Buffalo is the MLB season isn't being shut down despite a recent COVID breakout throughout the Miami Marlins roster. Construction on Sahlen Field continues to move forward in preparation for the Blue Jays arrival August 11, but there are still looming problems that could pose a threat to MLB completing their season. WBFO's Nick Lippa spoke with Buffalo News Baseball Reporter Mike Harrington about the league's current state of affairs. 


Nick Lippa: With Sahlen Field working on making improvements as we speak as the Blue Jays 2020 home field here in Buffalo, it was concerning to many when it was revealed the first team who will visit Buffalo, the Miami Marlins, had 14 of their players and staff test positive for COVID-19. Does this news pose a threat to the season, thus the MLB in Buffalo? 

MH: Well right now everyone's still kind of in fact-finding wait and see mode. The Marlins game on Monday night was postponed-- their home opener. They're gonna move forward and see what they need to do.. There is going to be more testing done. They have players at their alternate training site. The major league owners met on Monday. This is not going to derail the season if  one team has an outbreak. If we have multiple teams have an outbreak, that's a different story entirely. But for right now they're going to move forward, you're going to isolate the effect of players, get replacements in there and carry on and a couple days. 

You mentioned if it could happen to a couple of other teams, maybe that causes more of a problem. And it's worth noting, the MLB is not like the NBA or the NHL. They're not in a bubble. Do you think that decision, not to be in a bubble, could come back to hurt the MLB from finishing this year? 

MH: Yeah, I was skeptical about it in the first place. I want to see all these teams try to play. I don't really see the point in waiting eight months or till next year. See if you can play now, but trying to do it outside of a bubble, the player association nixed the idea of a bubble in Arizona and Florida. And all the travel and the in and out of hotspots. It's going to be difficult to get through a season. I have a lot more confidence in the NBA and NHL getting through their season. Right now, MLB certainly (has) major, major doubts.

And speaking of which the NHL just had a report today as well. Zero positive COVID tests correct? 

MH: Yeah, they've done a really good job getting through their training camps. The players have all arrived now at the bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton. The exhibition games start tomorrow. The regular qualifier playoff games start Saturday. They had no positive COVID tests from the period of July 18 to July 25. So that's a really tremendous bit of news there. And they have to see how that progresses now when they start playing games and going head to head here, but so far, they got into the bubble and things are looking up from the NHL standpoint. 

So what should baseball fans in Buffalo be looking for Major League Baseball to be doing to make sure this season can continue in a safe fashion? 

MH: They have to make sure now if there's any more players who are positive they have to speak up. The Marlins knew they had three positive players Sunday and they voted to go ahead and play the game. That should not have been the Marlins decision. It should have been protocol for that thing-- they should not have played. Now all of a sudden you've got 14 positives after they played and they last exposed the Phillies. The Yankees had to go into Philadelphia’s ballpark this week now. They didn't go in there Monday night. MLB needs to sit people out and isolate positive cases. And if a game gets postponed, a game gets postponed. If we want to see baseball in Buffalo on August 11, they're going to have to clamp down on the protocols. And one last thing-- we've seen too many high fives and hugs going on as normal in these first three or four days of games. They're supposed to be not a lot of contact between players. And there's a reason for that. So I think MLB is really going to try to impress upon these teams to follow the protocols they've laid out. 

And you've already had a few players opt out of playing this year before the season even started. Could you see more players looking at this scenario with what just happened with the Marlins and deciding to opt out of the current season? 

MH: You wonder. There's been no one as of this moment we're talking, but you wonder if guys are going to reevaluate their status. I mean, you are going to jeopardize your pay at this point if you leave once the season is started. But I think everybody's going to have to do a little soul searching and see. Certainly that kind of news with that number of infections has to rattle people across baseball.

In the meanwhile, here in Buffalo upgrades are happening at Sahlen field. What have you heard so far? How is that coming along?  

MH: This is actually going to be a multi-million dollar project believe it or not. The Blue Jays and MLB are bearing all the costs of it. But yeah, it's full speed ahead. MLB has people here who worked on their build outs in Williamsport for the Little League Classic and the  Field of Dreams game in Iowa and the games in London. The ballpark is going to look quite different on the interior than it does for a normal bisons game. The biggest thing going so far, they have to get the lighting project and they're taking the service level-- the Bisons and visiting club houses are both going to be used by the Blue Jays to promote social distancing. And the visitors are going to get new temporary club houses and there's some discussion about in the concourse or in right field. So they're going to completely reimagine a lot of the spaces in this ballpark. Really the only thing that's gonna look the same when these games are played is the actual field.

TV broadcasts will be the only way for pretty much most people to see how that comes along. The only other question I have for you right now is moving forward-- Let's say two weeks from now you have some concerns about the safety and health of players. Do you see any New York government officials potentially stepping in and saying, ‘Hey, we don't feel safe about letting somebody come into Buffalo or coming into the state?’ 

MH: Well, everything's a moving day to day situation here. Anything can change. But Governor Cuomo a few weeks ago waived all the quarantine rules for visiting teams come in to play the Mets and Yankees. So that certainly applies to the visiting teams coming into Buffalo to play the Blue Jays. So anything that would change from a government standpoint would also apply to the Mets and Yankees as well. And if there were changes in that area, that would probably indicate baseball is in real trouble.


You can follow Mike Harrington on Twitter @ByMHarrington and read his most recent work with the Buffalo News here.


Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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