I last attended a live baseball game on March 9, 2020. COVID-19 was a creeping threat, but at the time it was unclear how devastating it would be. MLB had no plans to cancel games but they did see the need to restrict some behavior, and told players not to sign autographs for fans to avoid unnecessary contact.
Well, as I strolled around the stadium in Clearwater prior to the game, the first thing I saw was Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames signing autographs for kids. Of course, I thought, players aren’t going to say no to kids over concern about a threat that still seemed very abstract.
Fast forward to July. COVID-19 and its risks hardly seem abstract now, and baseball players should be among those most attuned to the dangers. MLB has a lengthy 2020 Operations Manual that spells out all the new rules governing this unusual season. Among those regulations is this guidance:
All Tier 1 and Tier 2 Individuals [players, coaches and key staff] must avoid any physical interactions (such as high-fives, fist bumps, or hugs) while at Club facilities
Most on the Rays seem extremely aware of the risks, based on their comments and the behavior we observe.
Most, but not all.
Kevin Kiermaier’s tenth inning hit led to the Rays first 2020 walkoff win on Sunday. That is definitely cause for celebration! It is not, however, a good reason to ignore MLB protocols and hug and high five teammates (and, apparently, his manager, who should really know better).
It’s not surprising that players will forget themselves while in the throes of enthusiasm, but Kiermaier’s postgame remarks suggest he has no intention of curbing these instincts. Here is Kiermaier, as transcribed by the Tampa Bay Times:
I don’t regret it one bit, I really don’t. I knew what I was doing. … I’m one of those guys where I’m trying to do everything in my power to keep myself motivated and the others around me, and I want everyone to always remember how much fun winning is.”
Kevin: stop it!
This isn’t a situation where we applaud the enthusiasm. This isn’t a time to shrug off the overboogie.
Baseball has distancing protocols in place for a reason. Those joyous high fives say “I am indifferent to my health and the health of those around me.” Those hugs say “I won’t change my behavior even if I contribute to the risk that the season gets cancelled”.
There are many ways to celebrate important on-field achievements, and clearly many of the Rays have figured this out.
Here is Ji-Man Choi elbow bumping after a home run:
In Monday’s game, the Rays had many big hits, including five home runs. The cameras caught the dugout celebration after several of these — a line of elbow and fist bumps followed by enthusiastic passing of the hand sanitizer. Sadly, that is what a 2020 celebration needs to look like.
Here’s my plea to Rays players and coaches: if you want to model healthy behavior; if you want to keep your teammates and families safe; if you want to be playing baseball in two weeks, you will learn to change some habits, even if that is momentarily difficult. You have to be that guy who refuses a teammate’s high five and offers an elbow. And if, in the heat of the game you forget, you own the mistake and don’t justify it after the fact as “showing how much fun winning is.”
Watching baseball has been a bright spot for many of us; the multiple Marlins COVID-19 cases and subsequent cancellation of several games is a stark reminder that this season hangs on a thin thread.
Please, Kevin, learn some new ways to celebrate.