By STEVE MEGARGEE
Freddie Freeman tests positive for COVID-19. Masahiro Tanaka gets hit in the head by a line drive. David Price announces he won’t play this season.
On this Fourth of July, even the return of baseball didn’t offer much cause for celebration.
As teams prepared to start their pandemic-shortened season, sobering examples of the game’s potential danger took place at camps across the country.
Major League Baseball is getting ready for a 60-game season that won’t include Price, a former Cy Young Award winner who was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February.
“After considerable thought and discussion with my family and the Dodgers, I have decided it is in the best interest of my health and my family’s health for me to not play this season,” the five-time All-Star tweeted Saturday.
“I will miss my teammates and will be cheering for them throughout the season and on to a World Series victory. I’m sorry I won’t be playing for you this year, but look forward to representing you next year,” Price said.
The 34-year-old Price said he was opting out about five hours after Atlanta manager Brian Snitker announced Freeman had tested positive along with Braves pitchers Will Smith and Touki Toussaint as well as infielder Pete Kozma. Snitker said Smith and Toussaint were asymptomatic and noted Kozma had a fever.
Freeman is “not feeling great,” Snitker said.
“It will be a while before we can get him back,” he said of the four-time All-Star first baseman.
It was uncertain whether Freeman would be ready for the start of the season, scheduled for July 23.
The New York Yankees said All-Star infielder DJ LeMahieu and pitcher Luis Cessa tested positive for COVID-19 before traveling to New York and were self-isolating at home. Manager Aaron Boone said LeMahieu was asymptomatic and Cessa had mild symptoms.
Kansas City catcher Salvador Pérez and Twins first baseman Miguel Sanó also tested positive.
Due to concerns about medical privacy laws, MLB isn’t making a practice of disclosing which players test positive. For example, Baltimore Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said the team doesn’t intend to reveal to the general public if anyone has tested positive. The Pittsburgh Pirates acknowledged there were positive tests within the organization but didn’t get into specifics.
In the Braves’ case, the four players who tested positive permitted Snitker to reveal their names. It’s a move he applauded.
“For me, I think it’s good in the industry and society, to know that this is a real deal,” Snitker said. “This virus is real. It’s nothing to mess with.”
Snitker said Braves first base coach Eric Young Sr. already has opted out due to COVID-19 concerns.
Houston’s Dusty Baker, who at 71 is the oldest MLB manager, added that “I admire Freddie Freeman and his group for coming out saying what the problem is. And hopefully this can get through to other people, other young people.″
Indeed, the news surrounding Freeman offered a reminder to players across the league that anyone is potentially susceptible. Freeman joins Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon as four-time All-Stars who have tested positive.
“It doesn’t matter — age, race, ethnicity, religion,” Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun said. “Nobody is immune from this thing. I think there are constant reminders when you see the amount of athletes who have tested positive, the amount of big-name athletes who have tested positive and you hear some of their stories.”
San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey says he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of sitting out this season, assuming the games are actually played. The six-time All-Star isn’t yet convinced there will even be a season.
“The way I would project it is I wouldn’t be surprised by anything at this point,” Posey said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we played 60 games with no hiccup and I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t play a game at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if we played half the games. That’s just the variability of this to me.”
“I just really think there’s no way we can give a hard line answer one way or another to what this is going to look like a week from now much less two months from now,” he said.
Posey’s comments came one day after three-time AL MVP Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels said he still doesn’t “feel that comfortable” about playing this season with his wife expecting their first child in August. Trout said he is planning to play at this point but that much would depend on how he feels the next couple of weeks.
Texas Rangers outfielder Nick Solak said that “after getting tested, just waiting for the results, there’s a level of anxiety.” He acknowledged that anxiety might subside as the season wears on and players get more accustomed to going through the tests.
The most frightening scene of the day didn’t involve the coronavirus at all.
During the Yankees’ first official summer camp workout, Tanaka got hit in the head by Giancarlo Stanton’s live drive. Tanaka immediately collapsed and stayed own for a few minutes before sitting up and eventually walking off.
The Yankees said in a statement that Tanaka was responsive and walking under his own power. He was sent to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for further evaluation.
That was the scariest moment of baseball’s bizarre and eerie return to the Bronx.
Before they even began their first official workout, Yankees players were startled mid-stretch around when someone set off a firework just outside the ballpark that echoed throughout the empty stadium. Similar bangs went off intermittently throughout the workout.
About 45 minutes after Tanaka was hit, a deafening siren went off in Yankee Stadium, drowning out music playing through the PA system for about 30 seconds. Emergency lights flashed around the stadium for about five minutes, as well.
AP sports writers Dave Ginsburg, Will Graves, Stephen Hawkins, Janie McCauley, Charles Odum, Kristie Rieken, Jake Seiner and Steven Wine contributed to this report.