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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Donovan Mitchell Sr.'s negative test for coronavirus a huge victory for Mets

Mets catcher Wilson Ramos, left, and pitcher Jacob

Mets catcher Wilson Ramos, left, and pitcher Jacob deGrom walk to the dugout after warming up in the bullpen prior to a spring training baseball game on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Credit: AP/Julio Cortez

FORT MYERS, Fla.

The only results that matter for a while are going to be the kind that the Mets got back Friday night on front-office staffer Donovan Mitchell Sr., who tested negative for the coronavirus.

Mitchell was at risk after watching his son, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell Jr., play against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 4. The younger Mitchell, as the world knows, subsequently came up positive for COVID-19. But few outside the Mets’ circle realized just how close that diagnosis came to wreaking havoc among MLB personnel as well.

The affable Mitchell, whose official title is director of player relations and community outreach, is a frequent clubhouse presence, delivering fist bumps and backslaps among Mets and media alike. Thank goodness Mitchell dodged a bullet here. Not only is he a great guy, but we don’t even want to think of the firestorm that would have resulted from a positive test.

Aside from the Mets’ roster, there were coaches and staffers and reporters (including me) who spent plenty of time in the Clover Park facility and interacted with Mitchell since his return to Florida from New York.

If the elder Mitchell had tested positive, certainly everyone within his Mets radius would have to be tested, extending outward from there. Families, friends, fellow airline passengers, maybe Uber drivers, etc. You get the idea.

And that’s still a relatively small sampling. From what we’ve been told, the coronavirus is extremely contagious, and with no vaccine or current immunity among the population, a single case has the potential to spark another far-flung wildfire.

We bring up Mitchell again as the backdrop to Saturday’s conference call with general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who took about 20 minutes of questions but had precious few answers.

Van Wagenen is hardly alone in that regard, either. Nobody from the White House to the White Sox has any clue how long the damaging effects of this coronavirus outbreak will stretch, and the only victory we’ve been able to claim this early in the process is what the docs told Mitchell on Friday night.

“We all were very pleased and happy for Donovan and his family that his test came back negative,” Van Wagenen said. “And I know there was a sigh of relief to a degree for our players and staffs here. But we'll continue to monitor and work with our health and performance and medical professionals as well as state and local authorities to make sure all of our people here on site are as safe as possible.”

Which leads us to the next challenge facing teams that choose to remain holed up at their spring training facilities, as the Yankees voted to do Friday and many of the Mets are considering as well. While it’s admirable that players want to remain together in the pursuit of their loftier baseball goals, these clubhouses are by no means impenetrable fortresses against COVID-19.

We’ll assume that these teams will be better prepared for whenever Opening Day does take place, based on a more supervised and shared workout regimen, rather than staying in shape on their own someplace else. As Newsday’s Tim Healey reported, a “high majority” of Mets intend to stick in Port St. Lucie, even as other teams have bolted their spring training sites.

That’s not surprising, judging by the camaraderie we’ve witnessed from this group along with a unified belief that the 2020 season could be a very special one in Flushing. But can the Mets, or the Yankees across the state in Tampa, do a sufficient job sheltering their players as a global pandemic rages around them?

It’s reasonable to think the players could be more at risk going back to an increasingly hot spot such as New York or returning to their home cities — the two other options provided by MLB’s negotiated coronavirus strategy. But closing ranks and working out side-by-side in the same clubhouses, weight rooms and batting cages (to say nothing of the bathroom facilities) shouldn’t be considered a safe zone, either. If one player were to bring the coronavirus into this environment, the chances of infecting the entire team would seem to grow exponentially.

 “We're operating right now that this is bigger than baseball,” Van Wagenen said. “This is not about preparing for competition today as much as it is making sure that players are considering their own circumstances, because naturally each player has a very different circumstance from one another. We're encouraging players to be thoughtful and to be measured in considering their personal and family situations, and then we can accommodate them from a baseball standpoint.”

Accommodate, sure. But actual, targeted preparation? Figuring out a schedule is nearly impossible at this stage, because teams don’t have a date to aim for.

This year, like every other, when the Mets showed up for spring training, all they had to do was count backward from March 26 to map out their pitching plans and positional workload.

Now? It’s anybody’s guess.

Initially, MLB’s best-case scenario was April 9, but that ain’t happening. Even May 1 feels overly optimistic.

So does it make sense for back-to-back Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom to stay on a five-day track indefinitely and keep burning pitches in practice? Or any member of the Mets’ stellar rotation, for that matter?

 And how does Pete Alonso or Jeff McNeil or Amed Rosario pace himself for a start date that could be six weeks or nearly three months away?

“This is bigger than Opening Day,” Van Wagenen said.

True. Right now, tomorrow feels like more than enough to worry about.

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