ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The pandemic had already shortened the baseball season. And now less than a week into it, there are big problems with the coronavirus.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Major League Baseball announced it is postponing three games - tonight's home opener for the Miami Marlins, a home game for the Philadelphia Phillies and another Marlins game tomorrow.
SHAPIRO: This is because of a coronavirus outbreak among the Marlins. Joining us now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What happened with the Marlins?
GOLDMAN: They played a season opening series this past week in Philadelphia, and four players tested positive for COVID-19. And today we learned the number of positive tests had grown to at least 13, mostly players. The Marlins have stayed in Philadelphia. They're self-quarantining until more test results come back. Now, the alarming part of this story - the Marlins went ahead and played yesterday even though they knew those four players had been infected and scratched from the game. But the rest of the players and manager Don Mattingly said it was never their mentality not to play. Now, Ari, that's a rousing sentiment under normal circumstances - not so much when a highly transmissible virus is out there. And...
GOLDMAN: We should note Major League Baseball didn't step in and cancel the game. Now, I asked a couple of infectious disease experts about this decision to go ahead and play. One said it was crazy. Another, Dr. John Swartzberg from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, had this to say.
JOHN SWARTZBERG: The idea that four of the 30 players would be infected and they wouldn't be concerned that other players were also infected is very curious at best and irresponsible at worst.
SHAPIRO: And the risk has to extend beyond this one team, too, right?
GOLDMAN: Well, you'd think so. You know, obviously, with the Phillies, who Miami played over the weekend, especially the Philadelphia staff members who worked in the visitors clubhouse over the weekend - they're reportedly being quarantined and tested. Then the Yankees, who were going to use the same visitors clubhouse the Marlins used - although if the clubhouse had a deep cleaning, it should make it safer to be in there. Then Atlanta, which hosted the Marlins in a pre-season game last week - there are questions about whether the Marlins might have contracted the virus there before they flew to Philadelphia.
So, you know, you can see the potential tentacles of this. Baseball, Ari, is not playing in a protective bubble like the NBA, like men's and women's pro soccer. Travel always was going to be a concern, and we're perhaps seeing that concern become a reality.
SHAPIRO: And what does all of that mean for the rest of the even shortened season?
GOLDMAN: Well, you're right. You know, there are those who say it signals there's no way baseball can pull this off even though it has been shortened to 60 games. There are reports Cincinnati may be having problems with infections, creating nervousness in Detroit, which just played there, and Chicago, with the Cubs scheduled to play the Reds tonight. What this does is put the focus on baseball's plan for restarting and how it deals with this situation. I talked to Dr. Tara Kirk Sell from Johns Hopkins about this. She's worked on pandemic preparedness for the last decade. She was involved in writing up a health and safety plan for a multiday event this month called The Basketball Tournament. Here she is.
TARA KIRK SELL: The problem wasn't in writing a plan that looked good and that was going to work in the ideal circumstances. It was writing a plan that was going to work when things went wrong.
GOLDMAN: And when things went wrong, what mechanisms are in place to keep a league running? We're about to find out whether baseball's comprehensive health and safety plan includes those mechanisms and is robust enough to keep the league going in the face of the Marlins outbreak and maybe others to come.
SHAPIRO: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman - thank you, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.