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Death of Nicaraguan Baseball Coach Raises Concerns about Safety of MLB Coaches During Pandemic

On May 21st, Carlos Aranda Jr., a coach for the Nicaraguan baseball team Las Fieras de San Fernando, died after being hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19. Two other San Fernando members, manager Norman Cardoze Sr. and his son Norman Cardoze Jr., had also been hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19. Following Aranda’s death, the Comisión Nicaragüense de Béisbol Superior (Nicaraguan Higher-Level Baseball Commission, or CNBS) announced preventative measures, including temperature checks of players and suspension of games “if necessary” in a resolution dated May 20 but released on May 21st.

The CNBS later decided to completely suspend competition for three weeks. San Fernando was eliminated from consideration from the league championship after the players decided not to continue.

Unlike in the major North American leagues, sports competition in Nicaragua has continued despite the threat of coronavirus. According to an April article in The Guardian, this is due to political pressure on teams that rely on government funding to operate.

According to journalist Camilo Velásquez’s comments published in The Guardian, the Nicaraguan government has “been desperate to show things are back to normal” since a street protest movement in April 2018. “[P]art of that includes functioning sports. Coronavirus became a big threat because they are scared of a general strike and shutting everything down would pretty much allow that.” Velásquez adds that “Players are very, very scared. When their income is football and the state is paying their salary, you can understand why they’ll remain quiet.”

Aranda was born in 1961, making him at least 58 years old at the time of his death. Many MLB coaches and managers are even older, putting them at higher risk of complications and death from COVID-19. Last year, the New York Mets hired 82 year-old former Cub player and coach Phil Regan as their pitching coach. 70 year-old Dusty Baker was set to make his return as skipper for the Houston Astros in a caretaker role following the sign stealing scandal which led to the firing of AJ Hinch.

Much of the discussion about MLB’s ability to compete in a shortened 2020 season has revolved around the safety of the players, who will be in close contact on the field. However, managers and coaches will also be required to come onto the field during games and have contact with players. I am afraid COVID-19 will claim the life of a senior citizen coach or support staff employee if there is MLB competition this year. Should baseball fans sacrifice senior members of the baseball community so we can have our summer entertainment?

There is much we do not yet know about COVID-19 and its long-term effects for survivors. I believe sports leagues should remain on hold until at least the fall to give medical experts time to research treatments and potential vaccines. Leagues will benefit from more time to negotiate safety measures to protect players, coaches and staff. There should be no rush to get back on the field.