If the Chicago Cubs thought Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 healthy and safety protocols were challenging during the regular season, they’ll need to be even more disciplined should they reach the playoffs.
“Once you’re actually in the bubble, if you look at some of the protocols, the strictness of being in the room, of being able to walk around,” Ian Happ, the Cubs' union representative, said Wednesday. “There’s some wording in there that just having to ask for permission to go on a walk. It feels more like a zoo animal than a baseball player or a human.”
Barring a collapse, the Cubs are on track to win the National League Central and host a best-of-three series at Wrigley Field starting Sept. 30. They entered their game Wednesday evening against the visiting Cleveland Indians with a 4 1/4 u00bc-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.
But a transition period will begin next week, with a traveling party of up to 90 members required to stay in a hotel. The Cubs face the Pirates for a four-game series in Pittsburgh starting Monday before returning to Chicago to play the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Any player who lives by himself, has a spouse who is pregnant or requires special needs authorized by a doctor or lives at home with children may stay at home during the transition period, pending MLB approval.
“You never want to have to leave people behind,” Happ said. “It’s something that’s been consistent with our journey throughout this season is not being able to see your loved ones and not being able to do some of the things you would do in a normal season. So to make sure guys had that option, guys had the ability to be with their loved ones and have their support system around them was very important from a player’s perspective.”
All first-round series will be played at the higher seeds' home ballparks, then the final four teams in each league will transition to bubble environments.
The NL Division Series will be held at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, and Minute Maid Park in Houston. The NLCS and World Series will take place at Globe Life. The ALDS will be at San Diego’s Petco Park and Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium, with the ALCS set for Petco.
Family members aren’t allowed at the bubble hotels for the division series, league championship series and World Series until they complete a supervised seven-day quarantine period. Players, however, are allowed up to six family members and guests stay at separate family hotels after the first round.
“There’s going to be the life challenges of packing up your apartment in a week because you didn’t know exactly what this is going to look like,” Happ said. “And there’s extending leases, the moving and a lot of real-world challenges that come along with an expedited process like this.”
Happ had no issue with the schedule in which there will be no days off during each series, nor did he mind the possibility of not playing at Wrigley should the Cubs advance past the first round.
“That’s how it has to be, to ensure the safety and to make sure that guys aren’t traveling all over the country,” Happ said. "It’s the right thing to do. That’s the best way to get the playoffs in.
"As long as teams and the league is accommodating players and families and making it a viable environment. It’s what everybody’s dealing with. There’s no home-field advantage on either side.
“But it’s definitely going to be a lot different.”
Manager David Ross didn’t discount the mental stress his players have endured, with some approaching 90 days without seeing their wives and kids.
“That’s a humongous challenge,” Ross said. “It’s something you’ll look back on. It will be historic. I’m glad we got to come to work with these people.”
The restrictions have fostered a greater bond among the Cubs players, and Ross confirmed that a spontaneous meeting Anthony Rizzo called among his fellow struggling hitters resonated.
“When you’re in the baseball atmosphere, it sparks baseball questions, family questions,” Ross said. "You get to know each other better.
“That’s where you feel comfortable addressing other teammates about their approach and what it takes to win.”
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