The first line made his position clear. It read, “I’m still deciding whether to play.”
“At the end of the day, does a player feel comfortable going to the field every day and — in my case, more importantly — feel comfortable coming home every day and feel like they’re not putting anyone else in danger?” Zimmerman wrote later in the diary. “I am by no means someone who thinks we all need to hide in our houses until a vaccine is found. That’s not feasible for anybody. We just need to do things in a sensible, smart way.”
Zimmerman shared his thoughts three days after MLB and the players’ union finalized plans for a 60-game season, with training camps set to resume next week. Zimmerman, 35, is the father of a three-week-old boy and two young daughters. His mother has multiple sclerosis and is “super high risk,” he wrote, and he worries about not seeing her until well after this season, if it is even played.
Zimmerman expressed doubt about the overall model, with MLB deciding to operate without a “bubble” or hub cities. The NBA’s return-to-play plan includes isolating the returning teams outside Orlando; the WNBA, MLS and National Women’s Soccer League opted for similar approaches. The NHL plans to designate two locations and put 12 teams in each. Baseball teams, however, will travel between cities — by air or train — and trust thousands to exercise caution while away from team facilities.
Players, coaches and staff members will sleep at home. Their families will have to be just as smart and safe to make this work. On top of that, the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers are among the teams in states that have been recent hot spots for spikes in coronavirus cases.
“If you’re going to participate, there are rules you have to follow,” Zimmerman wrote. MLB has left it up to each team to create and enforce a policy for conduct away from the facility.
“The ‘bubble’ is only as good as the people inside of the ‘bubble.’ It’s not like there’s going to be COVID police on our hotel floors,” Zimmerman continued. “So it will come down to the players and everyone involved and what they do with each and every second of their day. When you start thinking about it like that, it starts becoming a little more complicated.”
Zimmerman has made more than $137 million in his 15-year major league career, according to Baseball-Reference. He signed a one-year, $2 million deal for 2020, feeling he could still produce in a reduced rule. This year was supposed to be the start of his curtain call. He even wrote in a recent AP diary that the pandemic — and being home with family — has made him feel at peace with retirement.
But that doesn’t mean Zimmerman’s reservations are unique. It is likely that, in the coming days and weeks, more players will express as much. One person in close contact with many Nationals players said that Zimmerman is not alone and that others have kicked around the idea of sitting out. And how this season came about, after arduous negotiations between the owners and the players, has left many with a sour feeling about returning.
That feeling was sprinkled into Zimmerman’s story Friday. He made sure to note who’s putting their health on the line and who isn’t.
“I’ll tell you this about baseball: The owners aren’t going to be traveling with us. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be hanging out at their houses, watching baseball on TV,” he wrote. “We’re going to be the ones out there, if we decide to play. We’re the ones taking all the risk.”
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