Why they’re playing baseball in KBO and why we’re not playing here

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Yesterday’s announcement that ESPN would be broadcasting KBO games — which began early this morning — was welcome news for a lot of baseball-starved folks. I missed this morning’s games, and we likely won’t be doing day-to-day coverage of KBO contests like we would MLB games for a bunch of reasons, but I’ll no doubt be tuning in to a lot of them, as I’m sure many of you will too. It’s good to have something like that happening. I’m glad ESPN is doing it and I’m glad baseball is beginning in Korea.

But it’s also worth reminding ourselves why baseball is happening there and why it is not happening here. And it’s important not to allow the fact that baseball is happening there fool us into believing baseball can and should be happening here now or that it can happen here any time soon. At least responsibly.

As Jane McManus, the director of Marist College’s Center for Sports Communication noted in a powerful thread this morning, South Korea is in a very, very different place with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic than we are in North America. There have been 10,804 cases of COVID-19 there overall and 254 deaths reported there. They have had two straight days with no new coronavirus cases at all and they are just starting to ease social distancing measures.

Contrast that with the United States — a country with about six times South Korea’s population — which has had over 1.2 million cases, which is over 110 times the number of cases. Today the U.S. will pass 70,000 deaths. And it’s getting worse.

Yesterday, it was reported that the Trump administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths by June 1. That despite the fact that (a) we have rarely passed that many deaths at all in any single day (our usual total has been closer to 2,000); and (b) we were, allegedly, already past our “peak.” We’re clearly not past it, though, at least according to those people in the Trump administration.

In light of those numbers, it makes a great degree of sense that South Korea is beginning to open up and play professional sports. It also makes a great deal of sense for our country to not open back up yet and for our professional sports to be of secondary concern for the time being.

Yet, the wheels are turning to bring back both public life and commerce in general and Major League Baseball in particular.

Governors of an increasing number of states are announcing increasingly aggressive reopening strategies, to the approval of the federal government. Every few days Major League Baseball leaks some new proposal from their brainstorming sessions about how to bring back the game. How and why is that happening given that our death rates are climbing? How and why is that happening given that there is no real sign that we have even come close to getting the pandemic under control?

Given that the medical and public health science doesn’t really seem to back up these aggressive reopening schedules, something else is at work. Some desire, be it emotional, political, or some combination of the two, to simply return our country to something approaching normality regardless of that medical and public health science. A desire — overtly stated already by politicians, several of whom have been pushing baseball to return for symbolic and inspirational purposes — for the National Pastime to debut on or around, say, the Fourth of July so that everyone can declare the nation healed and normality restored. That stands in addition, of course, to the business considerations of baseball coming back and what I am sure is a genuine desire on the part of players to play and fans to watch them play.

If the Trump administration is correct, however, and we’re going to see 3,000 people a day dying of COVID-19 by June, it’s worth asking how such a schedule makes any kind of sense whatsoever. And what it says of us as a nation if, despite those numbers, we decide to press on anyway. Should the assertion “baseball is returning in July” lead the conversation with everything necessary to make that happen falling into place afterward, or should, like in South Korea, public health considerations lead the conversation and the reopening of the country follow? That question, by the way, goes both for baseball and for restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons and everything else.

I know the common response to that is “we can’t stay locked down forever.” I know that people are suffering financially and psychologically from all of this. Of less importance, I know people simply want baseball back. I do too.

But if we’re going to make the decision, as a nation, to bring back baseball — and bars and restaurants and everything else –while a pandemic still rages, we should be obligated to admit, in no uncertain terms, why it is we’re willing to do that. What considerations we are prioritizing above public health. What price we’re willing to pay for our convenience, our comfort, and our entertainment.

Anthony Volpe, 21, wins Yankees’ starting shortstop job

Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sp

TAMPA, Fla. — Anthony Volpe grew up watching Derek Jeter star at shortstop for the New York Yankees.

Now, the 21-year-old is getting the chance to be the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop against the San Francisco Giants.

The team announced after a 6-2 win over Toronto in spring training that Volpe had won the spot. New York manager Aaron Boone called the kid into his office to deliver the news.

“My heart was beating pretty hard,” said Volpe, rated one of baseball’s best prospects. “Incredible. I’m just so excited. It’s hard for me to even put into words.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, hitting coach Dillon Lawson and bench coach Carlos Mendoza were also present.

Volpe was able to share the news with his parents and other family members near the Yankees’ dugout and said it is something he will never forget.

“It was pretty emotional,” Volpe said. “It was just an unbelievable moment to share with them.”

Volpe, who grew up a Yankees fan, lived in Manhattan as a child before moving to New Jersey. Jeter was his favorite player.

“It’s very surreal,” Volpe said. “I’ve only ever been to games at Yankee Stadium and for the most part only watched him play there.”

Volpe is hitting .314 with three homers, five RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage in 17 Grapefruit League games. He has just 22 games of experience at Triple-A.

Spring training started with Volpe, Oswald Peraza and holdover Isiah Kiner-Falefa competing for the everyday shortstop job. Kiner-Falefa was shifted into a utility role midway through camp, and Peraza was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“While certainly the performance was there, he killed it between the lines,” Boone said of Volpe. “All the other things that we’ve been hearing about showed up. There’s an energy he plays the game with, and an instinct that he has that is evident. He really checked every box that we could have had for him. Absolutely kicked the door in and earned his opportunity.”

Volpe arrived in Florida in December to work out at the Yankees’ minor league complex.

“He’s earned the right to take that spot, and we’re excited for him and excited for us,” Cashman said. “He just dominated all sides of the ball during February and March, and that bodes well obviously for him as we move forward.”

Volpe was selected out of high school with the 30th overall pick in the 2019 draft from Delbarton School in New Jersey. He passed up a college commitment to Vanderbilt to sign with the Yankees.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get into the organization,” Volpe said. “This day, this feeling, this moment was kind of what I’ve worked my whole life for when I made that big decision.”

“Right now it’s crazy,” he added. “I don’t even know what lies ahead but Thursday I just want to go out and play, and have fun.”