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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

When (if?) MLB gets to play, hopefully everyone will be healthy — and not just the players

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes during a spring training

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes during a spring training workout on Feb. 17 at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Aaron Judge described it as a “silver lining,” and in the midst of all this coronavirus-infected darkness, we understand what the Yankees’ rehabbing rightfielder was trying to say.

Yes, the regular season being on hold indefinitely gives Judge — along with recovering teammates James Paxton (back surgery) and Giancarlo Stanton (calf strain) — the unprecedented opportunity to be ready for whenever Opening Day happens to be. The same is true with the Mets across town, where Michael Conforto is dealing with a Grade 1 oblique strain and Yoenis Cespedes is coming back from twin heel surgeries followed by a boar-induced ankle fracture.

Rather than sitting out the first few weeks, or more than a month, all of these players should be healthy by the time Major League Baseball gets the green light — if it ever does. Judge particularly needed the extra time because of a confounding stress fracture in his  first right rib and a collapsed lung.

“That’s the silver lining in all of this,” Judge told reporters Friday outside of Steinbrenner Field. “Just having the ability to not feel rushed trying to get back for a certain date, especially since we really don’t have a date. Just trying to let it heal. Don’t try to rush it.”

Remember when the Yankees’ baffling series of injuries felt as if their championship season was dissolving before our eyes? And the Mets’ nearly spotless spring training bill of health (pre-Conforto) appeared to set them up for a spectacular 2020 start?

It wasn’t all that long ago. Less than two weeks. Sunday will make it 10 days ago, to be exact, right up to the point when MLB suspended spring training on March 12 and declared that the regular season would not begin as scheduled (the initial two-week delay has since been abandoned by a two-month hiatus, minimum).

To imagine that we’re going to see players on the field again before June 1, however, seems like an overly optimistic projection. And as life continues to get more restricted in a nationwide effort to contain the global pandemic, loosening those restrictions enough to allow for sporting events of any kind is a goal that appears too far away to even guess at in this current climate.

MLB and the Players Association have been in daily contact, according to sources, as they try to negotiate through some of the more complicated hurdles of a truncated season, with service time being among the chief concerns. But agreeing to terms on any of those issues seems impossible until they come up with a target date for Opening Day — and the way this pandemic is being handled suggests that is nowhere on the horizon.

Gov. Cuomo is eyeing places like the Javits Center and the Westchester County Center, home of the G League Knicks, as a drive-through testing center for COVID-19. Just one week into the CDC’s eight-week mandate of no group gatherings of 50 or more people,  Cuomo already took it a step further by putting the city under quarantine, effective Sunday night, in an attempt to enforce the six-foot social distancing guidelines.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, California and Oregon all had instituted “stay-at-home” lockdowns.  More states certainly will follow suit, including Florida, where the Yankees are maintaining a skeleton crew to work out at Steinbrenner Field. Some teams already have closed their facilities, despite a bargained agreement to keep them open for players who wanted to use them, and the Yankees soon might need to bend to those containment efforts.

“That’s the biggest concern — getting shut down,” Judge said. “The great thing is they have this open to we can come here and still do some baseball activity and stay ready. Just kind of feel like we’re still in baseball mode.”

For now, MLB  is viewing this coronavirus menace as an interruption to the regular season, not a cancellation. But even if the spread is halted (fingers crossed) how soon would the federal and state governments be comfortable allowing larger groups to congregate? The current guideline of 50 or more doesn’t even work for a game with zero spectators in the building.

Under the rosiest of projections, and a few big lucky bounces, maybe MLB can get back on the field again, but that would require an incredibly strict operating policy to keep their personnel virus-free. And forget having fans, of course.

Being healthy took on a whole different meaning this year, with much greater stakes. For once, it’s not about the players recovering. It’s everybody else. 

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