I recently sat down with Leones firstbaseman Art Charles before the game, and our conversation touched on how COVID affected him and the league. For many of us, we have been able to return to a semblance of our lives before– restaurants, bars, malls, being with friends. But while the country is opening up slowly, the players are still on lockdown.
A look at how covid has affected stadiums
Since I have a press pass– thanks, Mario and Jose!– I was able to arrive at the stadium a couple of hours before the gates open and explore the stadium before my interview with Art. It’s weird how I’ve been in attendance for almost every home game this season, not until my conversation with Art that I finally noticed all the COVID protocols and safety measures around the stadium.
For the stadium, It all begins a couple of hours before the game with a few people in sanitation equipment who go by each row and spray sanitizer on the seats. Stadiums are stuck at 40% capacity, so every other pair of seats in the stadium have tap don’t hem where fans are not allowed to sit.
For fans, It all begins with the mask; you are not allowed to enter the stadium, regardless if you have been vaccinated or not, without one. Not only are there checks at the gate, but throughout the game. Some attendants go through each section to remind people to put their masks on correctly if they have pulled them down or off during the game– unless you are currently taking a sip of beer or shoving a kibi down your gullet, you are expected to be wearing a mask.
The next protocol is the gate itself; if you haven’t been to a game, or follow the Leones on social media, then you haven’t noticed the huge blow-up walkways that spray a sanitizer mist over everyone that enters. After the gate, you are greeted by a familiar scene here in Merida– an attendant with a temperature gun and your first sanitizer dispenser– which are also spread throughout the stadium.
Just because the stadium is taking these precautions doesn’t mean that individuals should not also take responsibility. We bring sanitizing wipes and spray to wipe down our drinks and food packages. It is also encouraged by the stadium that fans bring their own drink containers for the concession attendants to pour the cokes, beer, Fanta into.
How COVID has affected the players
I’ll get more into Arts personal struggles during the canceled 2020 season in a future article on the prolific first baseman– let’s say that playing baseball year-round since college does not make a guy adapt well to a year without– but let’s focus on how COVID protocols have changed the league in 2021.
Before we begin, it’s important to understand how the teams in Mexico generate revenue; 90% of a team’s revenue comes from ticket sales and direct sponsorships. The league and teams have failed to adapt to the current tech landscape of streaming or merchandise sales.
This failure to adapt has seen teams’ revinues drop drastically in 2021 after a canceled 2020 season and having the stadium capacity capped at 40% this season. This drop has made teams cut player salaries in some instances as much as 50%!
Not only have players seen their salaries drop, but league-wide COVID protocols have kept them in a state of near lockdown since the beginning of the season. In Merida, we have had bars, restaurants, and other businesses open to some capacity for a while now– but players can face fines if they are caught breaking COVID protocols meaning that if they are found in a setting that’s not following protocols exactly, or pictured without a mask, etc. they run the risk of being fined or even a suspension.
This not only goes for individuals wanting to unwind after a game ( which is also difficult in Merida, who has reinstituted an 11:30 PM curfew) but also limits team gatherings. The only time the players can come together as a team is during pre-game warm-ups.
Inconsistant play, or border deprssion?
This season I have talked about the inconsistent play, hitting for home runs, etc. But my conversation with Art made me think ¨how would I react to living like I was still in lockdown?¨ personally I think I would go crazy– the few months where everything was closed, no sports being on, if it wasnt for my new son and wife telling me I needed to take a shower or clean– I would have fell into a deep depresion.
I can not imagine what it’s like for a player who has played baseball professionally for a decade, and then suddenly there are no games for a year, and when you come back, you will be on lockdown for a whole season as the world around you returns to normal.
Not to mention that there is no escape from the game for players; they can’t go to a bar for a post-game beer to unwind after a terrible loss or poor performance– they are stuck in their hotel room until the next game going over and over what they could have done differently until they are allowed to rejoin their teammates at the next day’s warm-ups.
My only remaining question is how teams win at all?