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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Positive COVID-19 test for Yankees coach Phil Nevin another dose of reality

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, center, watches batting practice

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, center, watches batting practice before a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla.  Credit: AP/Steve Nesius

You’ve no doubt heard it or said it over the past year-plus:

"When things get back to normal."

Well, this might just be the new normal.

The new normal is a world in which COVID-19 is less of a threat, but not gone completely. It will continue to affect our lives, our families, our jobs, and, for the purposes of this part of the newspaper, our sports fun.

The latest example came on Tuesday night when word of a "breakthrough positive" among the Yankees’ coaching staff came out hours before the start of a big May series against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"Breakthrough positive" is a term we might want to add to our sports lexicon. It means a positive test from a person who has been vaccinated.

In this case, it was 50-year-old third-base coach Phil Nevin. Other coaches were waiting for results on Tuesday night to see if they, too, had caught the virus.

Along with Nevin, the Yankees were without first base coach Reggie Willits and pitching coach Matt Blake. The game went on, as no players were believed to be part of the affected group.

After the Yankees’ 3-1 victory, the team announced that Willits and a third person — an unnamed "support staff member" — had also tested positive. The Yankees said that all three had been fully vaccinated.

Taking multiple COVID tests was back in the Yankees’ universe. So were masks. The Yankees had been spared from wearing them on the bench because they had passed the 85% vaccine threshold set by MLB in order to loosen some COVID-19 restrictions.

Pitcher Gerrit Cole wore a dark mask as he sat in front of a computer screen during a pregame Zoom news conference in a tiny room at Tropicana Field, a dreary dome that has no windows to open.

"I just think that we're trying to have an abundance of caution," Cole said, using another phrase that has become popular (and terribly overused) during the pandemic. "Several people who are going to be using this room -- I'm in a freaking broom closet right now . . . We're not all scientists, so if there's a little bit of extra precaution we could take, especially in shared rooms like this -- spitting on the TV when I'm talking and whatnot -- I think we're just going to try to be real aware of those types of situations for the next few days until I feel like we're out of the woods."

Cole chuckled as he talked about spitting on the screen (it is true that he’s a passionate speaker).

If the coaches’ outbreak among the Yankees is contained, if no one gets severely ill, it’ll just go down as one of those things that happens during a season in 2020-‘21.

"I guess we’re way more equipped to deal with this," manager Aaron Boone said. "I think when the amount of time goes off the clock for us -- for example, playing the 2020 season, going through spring training, playing this year and not having an issue -- it still hits you and it still stops you in your tracks and, ‘Whoa.’ "

The Yankees’ COVID problems weren’t the only ones in MLB on Tuesday. Superstar San Diego shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., owner of a 14-year, $340-million contract, was placed on the COVID injured list after testing positive. Two of his teammates were sidelined because of contract tracing.

The Padres did not reveal if Tatis had been vaccinated. San Diego’s game at Colorado was played as scheduled.

Something tells us this won’t be the last time our sports fun is threatened by positive COVID results.

"I don't think this is going to be over for a few years," Cole said. "I think we're going to have to be dealing with this kind of thing for a while."

Then the top of the first began at Tropicana Field. The Yankees had two new coaches on the baselines and bullpen coach Mike Harkey in the dugout. Aaron Judge hit a long home run. Luke Voit, back from an old-fashioned knee injury, struck out in his first at-bat of 2021. There were only a few thousand fans in the stands.

Felt normal. The new normal.

New York Sports