Sean Doolittle: ‘Sports are like the reward of a functioning society’

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On Sunday afternoon, Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle spoke to the media about training camp and the COVID-19 situation around the sport. Per Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post, here’s what the lefty said:

I do think it brings to mind kind of where we’re at in our response to this as a country. Like we’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people. We’re way worse off as a country than we were in March when we shut this thing down. Look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functioning 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 a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it. If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and keep thinking, ‘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?’ No, there are things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back. And now you want to bring fans back? Is that safe? I don’t know. I’m not a public health expert, but we should probably defer to them on some of these issues. So I don’t know if it’s safe or not. I really don’t know. But that doesn’t seem like something that … I don’t know if that feels like a good idea or not. I don’t know.

Doolittle also said that he still does not have his intake test results from Friday. It is now Sunday, and Doolittle submitted to another test earlier. MLB claimed testing would have a 24-hour turnaround time. Doolittle added that the players haven’t been given their personal protective equipment, or PPE — things like masks and gloves.

All this being said, Doolittle is still leaning towards playing. “But at any point,” the lefty said, “if I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health, with all the things we have to think about and this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I’ll opt out.”

Doolittle has been among the game’s better relievers since debuting in 2012. He owns a career 3.02 ERA with 111 saves and 457 strikeouts across 388 innings. If he were to sit out, it would be a blow to the Nationals’ chances of defending their title. If enough players — star or otherwise — sit out the season, one has to wonder what the point of having a season is.

MLB announced the results of the first round of COVID-19 testing on Friday, but it didn’t mention in the press release that the information was incomplete. A number of teams had not fully completed the testing. So the league is giving out incomplete information, testing is backlogged, and players still don’t have PPE. That’s along with handfuls of players seriously battling the virus like Freddie Freeman.

Félix Hernández was the latest player to opt out of the season, joining Mike Leake, Joe Ross, Tyson Ross, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Welington Castillo, and David Price. Indians bench coach Brad Mills is also out. There is a possibility that Mike Trout, Zack Wheeler, Doolittle and others could choose to join them on the sidelines before the start of the season in two and a half weeks.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.