The Nationals and the District of Columbia are engaged in something of a standoff, the team trying to convince local authorities to grant an exception of its strict COVID-19 quarantine rules and suggesting it may move games away from Nationals Park if the city doesn’t comply, a source familiar with the situation confirmed.
Though D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser granted an exemption to the team earlier this month to hold workouts and games at Nationals Park despite the city’s Phase 2 law restricting mass gatherings to no more than 50 people, the team is still required to adhere to the local protocol of a 14-day quarantine for anyone who is exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
That protocol, among the strictest in the country, kept a sizeable group of Nationals players and one coach from participating during the first two weeks of summer training workouts, even those who never tested positive and never displayed symptoms of the disease.
Some of the impacted personnel have now completed their 14 days in quarantine: Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick and Luis García all made their summer training debuts tonight, joining Starlin Castro and hitting coach Kevin Long, who previously had been quarantined. Outfielder Victor Robles and pitchers Fernando Abad and Joan Adon have not yet been cleared to participate. Relievers Wander Suero and Roenis Elías were placed on the 10-day injured list for unspecified reasons earlier this week.
Shortly after camp opened, the Nationals announced two players tested positive for COVID-19 in intake screening but were asymptomatic. They have said there have been no more positive tests since.
The Nationals are concerned they could lose players for two full weeks during the season if any come into contact with individuals who tested positive for the virus, even if those players satisfy the less-stringent protocols Major League Baseball has put into place this season. Local regulations supersede league protocols.
In theory, players from visiting teams could also be forced to quarantine in Washington for two weeks if they come into contact with someone who tests positive while in town.
With all of that in mind, the Nationals are exploring the possibility of moving their home games to either the new Single-A complex in Fredericksburg that is currently serving as the site of their supplemental roster workouts or to their spring training complex in West Palm Beach.
Neither alternative is particularly appealing. The Fredericksburg complex is not 100 percent completed and isn’t a major league facility. FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is equipped to host games and the number of personnel involved, but Florida has seen one of the nation’s largest spikes in COVID-19 cases over the last two months.
Nationals Park remains the club’s clear preference, and the club has spent the last few weeks readying the ballpark for the upcoming season. Just today, workers installed canopies beyond both dugouts to allow for more social distancing of players and coaches during games. They also have begun covering up sections of outfield seating with tarps emblazoned with advertisements.
If D.C. officials don’t grant the team an exception before opening night in one week, the Nationals will either have to go ahead and play in town and accept the possibility some players could be quarantined for two weeks at a time, or make an unwanted decision to move games out of the city.
The Washington Post first reported that the team is exploring the alternate options in Fredericksburg and West Palm Beach.