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Gene Warnick: Mariners shouldn’t risk future in pandemic-shortened season

By Gene Warnick The Spokesman-Review

Don’t take me out to the ball game.

Don’t take me out with any crowds larger than 10

Buy me some sanitizer and a face mask

I really do care if I ever get back

I’ll root, root, root for the home team from afar

If they don’t win, who really cares

For it’s one case of COVID-19 and you’re out.

Forget the old ball game.

Sports have provided a diversion from the real world since ancient times.

But do we really need a diversion right now?

Shouldn’t our focus be on our well-being and finding a cure for the novel coronavirus, not left-hander Marco Gonzales’ batting average against with runners in scoring position or whether top prospect Jarred Kelenic is going to make his Mariners debut?

This 60-game, pandemic-shortened baseball season, which starts Friday for the M’s, just feels wrong.

It’s about billionaire owners and millionaire players lining their pockets with TV money. Not about the fans who will be unable to attend games in government-mandated empty stadiums.

Is Major League Baseball without fans really baseball?

Heck, the Toronto Blue Jays were without a home on the eve of their opener, with Canada refusing to let them back in the country to play games at their home ballpark. Maybe they can get a complimentary roll of paper towels and play in Puerto Rico?

This whole proposition seems too risky, which is why former Mariners ace Felix Hernandez opted out of the season instead of joining the Atlanta Braves’ rotation.

What if a player contracts the virus and becomes the ultimate statistic, joining nearly 150,000 in this country who have already died.

No, it probably won’t happen. Instead, it’ll be a groundskeeper, clubhouse attendant, security guard or scoreboard operator who falls ill and spends his last days alone in a hospital on a ventilator.

Is that worth it? Are you really looking forward to this season? From what I can tell, there’s little excitement about Opening Day. Even ESPN’s hype machine has been muted.

For the Mariners, who could be in contention for the worst record in baseball and the top pick in next year’s draft, this will be little more than extended spring training.

The M’s shouldn’t start the clock on the 21-year-old Kelenic’s service time, thereby making him eligible for free agency a year earlier than he would be otherwise, to get a glimpse of the outfielder at an empty T-Mobile Park for two months. Same with right-hander Logan Gilbert and the franchise’s other top prospects.

This season is a wash. Bring the youngsters along for the ride, letting them throw off the mound in the bullpen, take batting practice and see what it’s like in the major leagues. But let them learn not by getting at-bats or innings, but by simply sitting at a socially acceptable distance in the empty stands.

The Mariners’ goal of building a team that can contend has already been pushed back a year.

MLB should do the same and stop this charade. It’s not worth the risk.

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