Their roster riddled by the coronavirus for the second consecutive weekend, the Cardinals have decided to remove themselves indefinitely from the field and from Major League Baseball’s season in order to focus on stemming the outbreak today, not trying to play tomorrow.
The Cardinals learned Sunday of a 10th player, outfielder Lane Thomas, with a confirmed positive for COVID-19, bringing the team’s total to 17 positive tests in the past 11 days. Major League Baseball postponed the entire three-game series against Pittsburgh that was supposed to start Monday night at Busch Stadium. There remain games on the schedule in Detroit and Chicago later this week, but all are uncertain as the team adopts a more conservative approach after the resurgence of the outbreak Friday.
“In terms of when we’re going to get back on the field and get back to baseball, I just don’t know,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “I’m not going to guess. Allow a few days to come and go and then we’ll reassess. Not having experience on how to truly isolate it and prevent it from spreading we’re learning as we go. I wish I had better answers. I wish I had something firm. But I don’t at this time.”
All players have been urged to quarantine at home. They continued daily testing Sunday, and will do so again Monday and Tuesday. Members of the Cardinals’ traveling party have been tested at least once a day since the initial positive tests, on July 30. The Cardinals have had 13 consecutive games postponed, and they will go at least two weeks between facing opponents. The layoff has been long enough that catcher Yadier Molina, one of the players who tested positive, had a test Sunday after waiting the mandatory seven days since his confirmed positive. He and a few other players began the return process that requires consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours.
It’s similar to the regimen and waiting the team as a whole is doing.
“What is the right amount of time to not assemble and to try and prevent spread?” Mozeliak asked. “I don’t think we know that answer perfectly. Even when you go back to what we learned from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to when we returned we thought we waited long enough and obviously we didn’t. We are doubling down on our tracing to try and see if we can understand where something may or may not pop up here. We continue to work on that tirelessly to give us more confidence before we decide that next step.”
The Cardinals' contact tracing identified the probability that Thomas would test positive before he did because he shares a residence in St. Louis with Ryan Helsley, who tested positive Thursday or Friday.
About half of the 17 individuals who tested positive have been asymptomatic. A player and member of the staff have had to visit the emergency room to receive treatment or have questions answered about their issues. Neither individual was identified by the team. Others have dealt with low-grade fevers, coughs, and headaches. Manager Mike Shildt said the two individuals who went to the ER required IVs. Neither was hospitalized overnight, and both of them have returned home.
“There are people dealing with — I mean, this is real,” Shildt said during his weekly show on KMOX (1120 AM). “And people are experiencing a lot of the symptoms that we hear about, that are associated with this. A variety of them. Most of them are experiencing multiple ones. Seems like they rotate with them. And, again, nobody is close to any critical shape, but people are having to deal with some things that aren’t comfortable at all.”
The Cardinals are next scheduled to play Thursday in a doubleheader in Detroit. Aside from the virus, there is significant concern that it would be problematic to have a team that hasn’t played in two weeks emerge from mothballs to a doubleheader. Also a factor for the Cardinals’ upcoming schedule are the strict travel policies of Chicago, where the team is scheduled to play this weekend and next week against the White Sox and Cubs, respectively. The Cardinals' next home game is Aug. 20.
They would have missed 21 games.
Mozeliak insisted that he has not heard discussion of removing the Cardinals from the 2020 season, and a source outside the organization confirmed it has not come up yet. When the outbreak has subsided they’ll see how the calendar looks, and Major League Baseball will determine what is possible. There has been discussion of following CDC guidelines that suggest a 14-day quarantine. The Cardinals, like the Marlins, did not do that in Milwaukee because MLB felt its daily testing “was an advantage,” Mozeliak said.
A majority of the active roster has continued to test negative daily for almost two weeks. But the Cardinals are unable to separate that group, establish a bubble, and get back to workouts on the field because there is concern that players with negative tests have been exposed to the virus because it seeped and slithered through the clubhouse.
“The problem with that model is you still have some level of exposure (and) you can’t guarantee someone isn’t a potential carrier,” Mozeliak said. “This is what our country is dealing with right now. We want to get to a point where we’re playing baseball, and we’re doing it in a safe manner. … There is that uncertainty. We can’t have a repeat of what we just saw, where we thought we cleared, we thought we were good, and then 48 hours later were told we have a positive. And then you end up with what you’re dealing with now. That’s the concern. The problem we have right now is trying to ensure that our negatives stay negative and before we re-engage as a group or reassemble as a group we have to have confidence that’s not going to happen.”
The team has used an app to maintain contact with the team and outline what it means to be quarantined. They’ve been told not to leave their house — except to drive down to the ballpark to take a test. They have a drive-through process to do that. The team has not been able to deliver equipment from the ballpark, so no room service baseballs like they had while in isolation at the Milwaukee hotel. The instructions also ask the players to keep a distance from their families in St. Louis. Mozeliak spoke to the media Sunday night from his home — and he had a mask around his neck because he wears it when he goes down for water. He has sequestered himself in an area of his house so that he only sees his family in passing.
In the background, ESPN Sunday Night Baseball was on.
“We were supposed to be in that game,” Mozeliak said of the postponed game at Busch against the Chicago Cubs.
Their normal has been upset. A week after shortstop Paul DeJong learned of his positive test on his birthday, Shildt drove Sunday to the ballpark to take his daily test on his birthday. He said during his radio interview that the Cardinals have been thrust into “an even more stringent normal.” They’ll need at least two consecutive days without a new positive test to discuss when they can regather as a team, let alone when they can play a game.
Before they can take the next step, they have to reach the next day.
“We’re dealing with people who are sick,” Mozeliak said. “This has hit very much close to home. We have friends and colleagues who aren’t doing well because of this. It shows you how powerful COVID-19 is. … We’re trying to learn as we go. It’s real. People are sick. It’s scary because they just don’t know what the next day is going to bring for them.”
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