Road worriers? Cubs travel to coronavirus hot spot for ‘nerve-wracking’ trip

Forget the Brewers and everything that happened over the weekend.

Playing baseball during a pandemic now starts to get real for the Cubs.

After beating the Brewers 9-1 on Sunday to win their opening series, the Cubs travel outside Chicago for the first time Monday — and into one of the hottest coronavirus hot spots among the eight road cities on their schedule, Cincinnati, for a four-game series.

“Obviously the traveling is the part I think a lot of guys are worried about,” pitcher Alec Mills said.

News from Cincinnati Sunday didn’t help. The day after Reds DH Matt Davidson was put on the COVID-19 injured list, two more key Reds players were scratched from the lineup Sunday after reportedly exhibiting symptoms, including Mike Moustakas, who joined Davidson on the IL. Nick Senzel’s status remains uncertain.

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“We were just talking about it, some of the guys,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said about a half-hour after the game. “It’s definitely something to be concerned about; if a clubhouse guy went over to their locker room, things like that, and making sure that locker room’s deep cleaned.

“I’m definitely going to be paying attention to the [Reds weekend opponent] Tigers now to see if a couple guys pop positive.

Hamilton County, where the Reds play, has been assigned a “red” alert status — the second-highest possible — on the state of Ohio’s coronavirus risk scale, for its “very high exposure and spread.”

A statewide mandatory mask order went into effect last week. And across the Ohio River from Cincinnati is Kentucky, which is experiencing record numbers of new cases.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Rizzo said. “But I’m sure MLB and the Reds will do everything they need to do to make us feel safe there.”

Maybe.

But teammate Willson Contreras said that even though he’s not worried about the risk he’s taking no chances and will bring his own sheets and towels for his hotel room, and Lysol, “because you don’t know where you’re going.”

This is what third baseman Kris Bryant meant as training camp opened in early July about the intake testing and individual-bubble part of the season being the “easy part” of keeping players and other personnel safe during a pandemic season.

“When you get into the season, and you’re traveling, and you’re in an airplane, your hotel, getting room service — who knows what people are doing,” Bryant said. “Especially on other teams, too. You’ve got to rely on everybody in this whole thing.”

Baseball is only one weekend into its 60-game schedule, and an already high-stress undertaking is bending under the strain of travel.

In Philadelphia on Sunday, three Marlins were scratched from the starting lineup, including pitcher Jose Ureña, reportedly because of positive COVID-19 tests. A fourth starter went on the IL for undisclosed reasons, which in each known case in MLB so far has meant a coronavirus-related reason.

Under the protocols, those players are not allowed to travel and are to remain quarantined at their hotel in Philadelphia.

It’s “absolutely” a concern as the team opens its first road trip, rookie Nico Hoerner said.

They are believed to be the only team that hasn’t had a player test positive since intake testing began nearly a month ago. But more variables come into play now, and the factors out of their control obviously increase.

Which means they could continue to do everything right and hold each other accountable on the road — Contreras talked about staying in and a book; Tyler Chatwood hoped for good movies at the hotel — and it still may not be enough.

That’s the nature of the risk with an easily spread virus that has killed more than 146,000 Americans in five months.

“We work so hard as athletes to maintain our health,” Hoerner said. “You want to do everything you can. You don’t want to miss two weeks for anything. It would feel like you’re letting down the team [to get the virus] even if you followed all the protocols. You don’t want to be the guy to mess that up.”

Even if the Cubs stay healthy, a few more cases like the Marlins’ and the viability of the league descends quickly into doubt.

But many of the Cubs express confidence even through a healthy fear of the risk as they begin to travel.

Chatwood, for instance, had the option of skipping the four-game trip because he’s not scheduled to start, but he said he wanted to stay with the team because “as different as this season is, I want to make it as normal as possible.”

Normal might be asking for a little much. For now, they’ll take keeping their health status intact.

“There’s been a lot of preparation and forethought put into all the logistics this year, especially the travel,” team president Theo Epstein said heading into the weekend. “And I am pretty confident.”

Epstein said every team has provided opponents with reference manuals for its city, providing guidance for available resources from the airports to the hotel and city.

“Look, it’s still traveling around the country in the middle of a pandemic, but it’s been conceived of as safely as possible and with a lot of forethought, and I think it’s going to be executed the same way.

“We’re not going to let up our guard at all, and there’s plenty of risk, but we’re all confident with how things have been planned out.”

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