A’s win again, but baseball under shadow of COVID-19

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

OAKLAND — The bad news was more than 2,000 miles away, yet as near as next door.

Now it’s the Miami Marlins. Tomorrow it may be the Phillies, who just played the Marlins. Or the Yankees, whose game against the Phillies was postponed.

Or, since they’re scheduled for their first road trip before the week’s out, the Athletics.

The game went on in Oakland, where the situation in Miami, and throughout all of major league baseball, became no less important than what took place on the diamond.

Indeed it became more important. Another setback — the word trepidation was heard in a player interview.

The Athletics beat the Angels 3-0 on Monday. The Coliseum was full of recorded music — albeit music out of the past, “Witchy Woman,” “California Dreamin'” — and, of course, devoid of people.

No fans in these COVID-19 days. Suddenly, plenty of worry.

Some sports restarted in a so-called bubble, teams grouped, sheltered. But 30 baseball teams couldn’t practice or play in one small area, as they can in basketball.

Too many players from too many areas. And, perhaps, too much optimism that the game would not be affected.

What does this mean for the short season that just started? What does this mean for the NFL, about to start with the opening of training camps? Baseball knew there would be problems, which is why rosters include taxi squads, but not on this scale. One team member, perhaps, not a dozen.

“If we have a team or two that’s really decimated with a number of people who had the virus and can’t play for any significant period of time, it could have a real impact on the competition,” Rob Manfred, the commissioner, said July 2 on the Dan Patrick Show.

“And we’d have to think very, very hard about what we’re doing.”

We’re all thinking. Is the coronavirus simply not containable? It was controlled a few months back, wasn’t it? Sports were returning, albeit cautiously. Auto racing, golf, now baseball.

And our great adviser, the man who knows infectious diseases, the fan, Dr. Anthony Fauci, even threw out the ceremonial first pitch for his team, the World Series champion Washington Nationals. It was almost a virtual stamp of approval. There’s a Topps card out with Fauci’s photo.

Of course, he did warn not to get complacent or careless.

In a way, it’s very much like sports. Until the final out, until the final horn, the game isn’t over no matter how well you’re doing.

Major league baseball is a daily activity, with travel, with numerous clubhouses, with various connections. No high-fives any more, but the virus already was out there.

“We have to go about it carefully, day by day,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin said when asked his response to news of the Marlins. “We don’t know what may happen.”

Again, as it has been with practically everything over the past six months, the applicable word is strange. Strange that at the end of July, baseball is just beginning and — who dares to hint — might be ending.

Strange when six A’s pitchers combine for a nine-hit shutout (Burch Smith got the win; he’s now 2-0), but a virus continues to be the major topic.

Athletes are confident when the opponent is another athlete. Now it’s an unseen, seemingly unbeatable foe, unseen except under a microscope. Even the best and bravest of the players are properly reluctant to challenge the coronavirus.

Buster Posey opted out of this baseball season. He is a father to newly adopted twins. David Price, the pitcher, also opted out.

Other players remain wary and nervous. What happened to members of the Marlins could happen to anyone. Now the question is: what happens to baseball?