MLB: Playoff bubble isn’t really a bubble if ballparks allow fans

Fans cheer during the 2019 MLB playoffs (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Fans cheer during the 2019 MLB playoffs (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Allowing fans into games  would defeat the purpose of having MLB playoff bubble in the first place: limiting coronavirus exposure

It’s practically guaranteed that the term “bubble” has been searched more this year among sports fans than ever before, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs have gone rather smoothly since the leagues returned from hiatus, with the NBA isolating in Orlando and the NHL dividing its playoff series between the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

Major League Baseball has done the same with a moderately expanded reach, with the divisional teams from each league playing among themselves and their cross-league division counterparts. It’s a system that has worked relatively well, limiting travel and, aside from a few early setbacks, going rather smoothly with the postseason on the horizon.

Just a few days ago, the organization revealed its postseason schedule, a playoff bubble split between California and Texas, with the World Series matchup scheduled to take place in the latter’s city of Arlington at the Rangers’ Globe Life Field.

According to reports, MLB also hopes to potentially have some fans in attendance for the postseason, and Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced on Thursday that the state would reopen with certain caveats. California, which continues to stand by its more stringent guidelines, is more of a question mark.

This, naturally, leads to the question of if a bubble is, indeed, a bubble, if fans are allowed in.

Fans at MLB playoffs would deflate the bubble

The short answer is, for a number of reasons, no.

A “bubble” in these terms is exactly that – isolation for the purpose of containing or regulating something. Think Stephen King’s Under the Dome, but on a less terrifying and supernatural level.

Holding the playoffs with limits – and without fans – has worked wonders for hockey and basketball, with almost no cases reported for either discipline. Just a few NFL teams permitted fans in the first week of the season, and MLB has done without flesh-and-bone fans (no disrespect to the cardboard attendees) for the entire season.

NASCAR, meanwhile, has allowed fans at some races and there hasn’t seemed to have been any fallout in terms of outbreaks.

There’s no doubt that the league would spread fans out, but it’s impossible to ensure those fans would wear masks on trips to the bathroom, concession stands or just to walk around. Asymptomatic fans who pass the forehead scan or other checkpoints present an additional question mark. Those in-game possibilities, though, conjure up images of a ballpark concourse teeming with the virus.

The long-tenured pastime of waiting in long lines outside the ballparks could worsen those risks – fans likely won’t be tested until arriving at the gate, meaning someone who ends up failing a forehead scan was already in the midst of others outside the stadium.

Additionally, the thought of fans ringing the decks at a ballpark effectively surrounding the field of play – one in which the players are fully out in the open – brings to mind an unpleasant outcome.

For argument’s sake, taking an average of, say, a ballpark with the capacity for 40,000 fans and the suggested 25 percent capacity equates to roughly 10,000 attendees. Cheering at a ballgame is only natural, and the rather disgusting thought of 10,000 individuals’ viruses and/or bacteria essentially collecting in an enclosed space is both uncomfortable to think about and a danger to the players, who carry out the game within that space and in the middle of that storm.

Autumn also cycles the yearly flu season back into our lives. With September in full swing we sit right on that precipice.

An attendee with the flu might not have symptoms kick in until a few days after contracting it, and the coronavirus’ warning signs can range from two to 14 days, meaning there’s always the potential for asymptomatic transmission of one or both viruses.

With the pandemic far from over, flu season looming and still so many unknowns, it’s best for baseball to hold off on fans until spring training – or even as far in as opening day – in 2021.