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The Braves’ restart isn’t going so well. Neither is MLB’s

Credit: AJC

Braves manager Brian Snitker announces Nick Markakis' decision to skip 2020 season and what it means to team. (Courtesy Atlanta Braves)

Credit: AJC

As Skip Caray would say after a loss, here are the unhappy totals: Four days into their restart, the Braves have had four players, two of them All-Stars, test positive for COVID-19; have seen two players, both former All-Stars, and one coach opt out of the rescheduled season, and have heard their 64-year-old manager concede that he has concerns about … well, himself.

As someone who has harbored reservations about the wisdom of playing sports amid a pandemic, I can't say I'm shocked. I am, however, surprised that MLB's plan appears to be falling apart so soon. A week ago, I wondered if baseball could make it past September. As of this minute, I'm not sure it'll get past July.

The Nationals and Astros canceled Monday workouts because they hadn’t received results from tests conducted Friday. It rather defeats the purpose of testing every other day, which was MLB’s plan, if you can’t know what’s what until every fourth day. (MLB is now considering switching – already! – to daily testing.)

Two days after beginning a Zoom briefing by announcing the positive tests of Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, Touki Toussaint and Pete Kozma, Braves manager Brian Snitker opened Monday's session by reporting that Nick Markakis had, after going through three days of tests/workouts, decided to sit out what's left of 2020. (Pitcher Felix Hernandez and coach Eric Young Sr. made the same choice over the weekend.)

» LIST: Baseball players opting out of 2020 season

In its way, Markakis choosing to take his leave was a bigger jolt than Freeman getting sick. Lots of people are sick. Markakis, characterized by Snitker as “the ultimate pro,” simply concluded playing baseball wasn’t worth it. Not without fans in the stands. Not with three children and a wife at home. Not at age 36.

Said Markakis: “I talked to Freddie Freeman the other day. Just hearing how he sounded on the phone kind of opened my eyes. Freddie didn’t sound good. … You don’t want anybody to be in that situation, and you do realize it could happen to you. We’re going to be traveling. There’s high-risk players in the clubhouse, there’s coaches.”

Credit: AJC

Braves outfielder Nick Markakis explains his decision to not play during the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Atlanta Braves)

Credit: AJC

Also: “An environment without fans, that’s not baseball to me. … I just don’t feel comfortable going out there without your biggest supporters behind you, and that’s the fans.”

MLB has all but conceded there will be no fans at any games, assuming there are any games, in 2020. That’s the right decision. Still unclear is how sagacious it is to try and stage a team sport when staying apart is the best way to limit the virus’ spread. Still unclear is whether that sport is doing a disservice to those who work in it.

Asked Monday if he worries about himself, Snitker said: “Honestly, yeah. I feel great right here. I’ll be fine these three weeks (of training). The traveling worries me more than anything. When you’re home with your grandkids. … it’s like I said the other day, the fact that we’ve had some positive tests makes you realize that this is real. This virus is real.”

Then: “I do (worry) a little bit, but I still think this is where I need to be. I’m confident I’m doing the right things. This club can do everything right – and they have, and the training staff’s been phenomenal … and, you never know, it might not be good enough.”

That’s the scary part: All of MLB’s planning might not be enough, and some are starting to realize it. Four days into the restart, nobody has any great confidence that this will work.

Said Snitker: “None of us knew what this was going to be. We all talked about getting back, but until we experience it and live it, you just don’t know.”

Does he believe there’ll be a season? “I have to be optimistic. … This (pandemic) is just ever-changing. Three weeks from now, it could be great.”

On Sunday, the Cardinals' Andrew Miller told reporters: "I think there's still some doubt that we're going to have a season now. By no means is this a slam dunk . … For me to sit here and say 100 percent would be a lie."

Here was Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle: "We haven't done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we're trying to just bring it back, even though we've taken none of the steps to flatten the curve, whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn't use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day."

Then: “We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We've waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’”

For the players, there’s a monetary reward to weigh against the health risk of playing. (A big-leaguer for 14 years, Markakis admitted he doesn’t “have to chase the money.”) But is 37% of a salary worth exposing family members to your risk? Remember, MLB will have no bubble. With 100 games already lost, is trying to play 60 games plus (maybe) playoffs worth all the protocols, all the anxiety?

Markakis – “one of the backbones of our team,” per Snitker – took a look and said no. That’s as chilling an indictment as we’ve had. MLB is trying. Trying mightn’t be enough.

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