As far as Dr Anthony S. Fauci can remember, last season was the first time his life was almost completely devoid of watching baseball. “Much to my pain,” he said in an interview with The New York Times on Friday night. He later added: “It was really terrible.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down and consumed his life, Fauci, the US government‘s top infectious disease expert and adviser to seven presidents, enjoyed a work stay from visiting Nationals Park, opening a beer , eating a hot dog and watching his beloved nationals. Growing up, he played in the sand courts of Brooklyn, loved the Yankees and memorized player stats.
“My year has been completely wasted,” said Fauci, 80. “I hope the year to come it will be a little different, but it will depend on the dynamics of the epidemic.”
With spring training starting next week in Arizona and Florida – two frequent hotspots for viruses – and with Major League Baseball season set to begin April 1, Fauci discussed the public health challenges ahead, his optimism. as to the possibility of playing a normal 162 game season. , his belief that fans can safely return to the stands outside and what he told baseball officials.
While you didn’t watch a lot of baseball last season, do you at least know how the Nationals did? (After winning the World Series title in 2019, they went 26-34 in 2020 – tied for last in the National Eastern League.)
Yeah, a little disappointing. But we will be back.
From a point of view, have you followed and seen how MLB and players handled the 2020 season bubble-free – from the early outbreaks on the season-jeopardizing Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals to tighter protocols and bubble conditions throughout the playoffs?
Unfortunately, I really can’t comment intelligently on this because I was completely out of it. I feel bad because I’m a fanatic baseball fan, but I was completely out of it. I was just working 18, 19 hours a day, seven days a week. I did not have the time.
Federal officials spoke separately with the MLB and the players’ union last week. Did you recommend that the season be delayed or continue as planned?
I was not recommending one route over the other as it was very clear that there was tension between the leaders of Major League Baseball and the Players Association – that the players wanted the season to go as planned. and that there was some concern as to whether they should delay it, which would have salary and other consequences. I couldn’t get involved in it.
The only thing I said was that from a public perspective, it seems that the cases – if you look at the tracing of cases – they have peaked, they turn around and start to decrease. . And probably the more time passes, the fewer cases we will see. Unless – unless – and it’s a possibility, we have an unexpected push related to some of the variants. So I think it would be a really close call and I didn’t want to get into the dispute about delaying it or not delaying it.
I would just say that whatever you do you have to do your best to protect the players and the people associated with the game because you don’t want them to end up getting infected. Over time, there will be more and more vaccines available. And I imagine that within a reasonable time the players and everyone else will be able to get vaccinated. I don’t think that will happen until the start of the season, but I do think it would be something on the horizon.
Anyway, I didn’t want to take any sides in any dispute because I think it’s an empirical decision. It really is a matter of judgment.
Are other professional sports leagues asking for advice as well?
They all have. And that’s the reason I’m a little shy about it because it’s been taken out of context. They ask me questions that are scientific public questions, and I give them answers based on solid scientific data. The decision they make is up to them to decide.
Even if cases are on the decline, they are still higher than when the 2020 season started on July 23. So, are you more or less optimistic that a longer 162-game season can be over?
What I have some optimism about – but I must stress that this is cautious optimism – is that while the cases are high compared to this time of last year, they are on the downward slope. And as each day goes by, it seems like it’s getting less and less. If you look at about a month ago, we were getting 300,000 to 400,000 cases a day. In the last consecutive days, we have had less than 100,000 cases, which has decreased significantly.
As the slopes continue to descend, we are heading in the right direction. Add to that the fact that we now have some very effective vaccines that are being rolled out. We are vaccinating more and more people every day. And we will have more and more vaccines available over the weeks and months. So it looks like we’re headed in the right direction. Whether or not it continues in this direction will depend on a lot of things: will people continue to pay attention and implement public health measures? What will happen with the variants? Are they going to make things more difficult by having an additional spike in infections? I do not know.
The big wild card in all of this is really the variations. Because the variant that’s in the UK is likely to become more dominant in the US, the models tell us it will likely happen by the end of March. If we don’t adhere to public health measures as we should, it could take us off the rails. That’s the reason I say I’m cautiously optimistic because we could turn around and go quite quickly in the opposite direction.
Regulations may vary by community, but what do you think of the likelihood that there will be fans in the stands during? spring training and the regular season?
The good thing about baseball is that most of it takes place outdoors. And if you hope people good enough, you make people wear masks, you have situations where people don’t rush into concessions close to each other to get food and things like that, you can. do it quite confidently believe.
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that from February 23, with test, distance and face coverage requirements, arenas and stadiums with 10,000 or more seats can accommodate 10% of the venue capacity. Is this desirable?
If you want to do it indoors, you have to have a lot less capacity than if you do it outdoors. On the outside is a large safety valve in the direction of the transmission of respiratory diseases. The exterior is always better than the interior.
As an avid Nationals fan, would you go back to Nationals Park to watch a game this season?
It would depend entirely on the level of the virus in the community. If every time you look at the graphs in the infection log it just keeps going down and down and down, then as I get ready to go to a game – where, for me, it’s pretty loose – I could very well decide that I want to enter the stands. But again, it’s hard to make a decision in the middle of the cold month of February of something you might do in March or April because you don’t know what the level of infection will be.
On a final note, do you want to throw another first ceremonial throw after last year? wandering throw at Nationals Park on opening day?
I wish I had a chance to redeem myself. (Laughing.)
Did you have this opportunity?
No, they haven’t mentioned anything about it yet.
Do you at least practice while waiting?
I do not have. This was the problem with why I was throwing it so badly: I practiced so much that I injured my arm.