Sign at Nats park reading "No Standing" with field in background
A sign displayed at Nationals Park Credit: Kelyn Soong

In a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez alluded to one of the phrases he famously used to rally his team on their run to the 2019 World Series title: Often, bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. Except this time, it had little to do with motivating a team to overachieve on the field. Martinez was referring to how the organization’s long awaited opening day game against the New York Mets in front of fans was postponed just hours before it was set to begin Thursday night due to three Nationals players testing positive for COVID-19 and the team undergoing contact tracing.

The Nationals announced Friday that the remainder of their series against the Mets scheduled to finish this weekend has been postponed for continued testing and contact tracing. Nationals general manager and president Mike Rizzo told reporters Friday afternoon that contact tracing has been completed and that four total players have tested positive, while five additional players and one staff member are quarantining because they were deemed to be in close contact. The team is prepared to play at the earliest on Monday, April 5 against the Atlanta Braves. Rizzo does not plan to reveal the names of any of the players impacted.

“So in total we have four confirmed positives right now, all players,” Rizzo said Friday. “Our contact tracing for the four positives has been complete. We have five additional players that are in quarantine, and we’ve continued our heightened testing protocols. We test everyday, and we are waiting for our results from yesterday’s test as we speak.”

The days leading up to Thursday, April 1, provided a burst of cathartic optimism for baseball-starved fans. The D.C. government had just allowed the Nationals to host 5,000 fans at Nationals Park, and team representatives spoke on Tuesday about how they expected the capacity to soon increase. Players expressed their excitement to finally get a chance to celebrate their 2019 World Series title with the hometown supporters in the stadium, and vaccines have allowed people to feel that the pandemic is nearing its end.

Thursday’s news issued a reality check.

“It’s a shame that we can’t play today, but we need to stay positive,” Martinez told reporters Thursday. “I’ve talked to a lot of players and my concern is about their health and safety and they’re going to stay positive. I talked to a lot of them last night and I’ll continue to reach out to them to make sure they’re OK, but we’re gonna get through this. This ain’t the first time we went through some bumpy roads, so we’ve been there and we’re going to come back from this and we’re going to play baseball.”

A day earlier, Rizzo announced that a Nationals player had tested positive for COVID-19 and that five individuals (four players and one staff member) were in quarantine due to close contact with the infected player. At that point, Rizzo sounded confident that the home opener against the New York Mets would happen as scheduled, but by Thursday morning, reports swirled that the game would be postponed. The Nationals released a statement on Twitter at 11:56 a.m. confirming the news and said it was “because of ongoing contact training involving members of the Nationals organization.”

Rizzo told reporters Thursday afternoon that two additional players tested positive for COVID-19 after their PCR tests on Wednesday and that one player had an “inconclusive sample” that was “likely positive.” That player was confirmed positive on Friday. Rizzo added that one of the four players who tested positive experienced a fever, while the rest were asymptomatic.

According to the MLB’s health and safety protocols for 2021, individuals who test positive will be required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days, while those who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will need to quarantine for seven days and must test negative on Day 5 or later to rejoin club facilities. The D.C. government recommends those who have been in close contact to quarantine for at least 10 days.

“We’re in concert with both MLB and D.C.,” Rizzo said when asked about the discrepancy. “We did the same thing last year and we have an open communication and it’s really on a case by case basis, but it could be anywhere from seven to 10 days depending on the circumstances of that individual player.”

Rizzo refused to speculate where the players may have gotten infected, but said that he does not believe it was due to anyone breaking protocol. No Nationals player tested positive during all of spring training in West Palm Beach, Florida. The team took a bus to its charter flight to D.C. on Monday from Florida, flew home, and then had another bus ride.

“I’ve got the utmost confidence that it was not a player breaking protocol,” Rizzo said. “We were very diligent in spring training … and the day we landed in D.C. was the day we got our first positive. It’s only conjecture on what happened and when it happened and we don’t want to get into that. This is a serious business. It’s about people’s health and these players, they’re obviously very important to me and to our organization, but they’re people and we’ve lost over half a million people because of this virus and there’s nothing to joke about. There’s nothing to point fingers over. And I believe that we’ve done it the right way, all of last year, and throughout all of spring training, and I believe that this was just some isolated incident.”

Both Rizzo and Martinez emphasized the seriousness of the situation and Rizzo does not believe that the actions taken to postpone the opening day game were overly cautious. “I think this virus is a deadly virus and we’re trying to do everything we can to protect our players and their families and our staff and the fans and the citizens of the DMV,” he said. “I think to err on the side caution is the right thing to do.”

Martinez echoed the same message: “All I can say is be safe. Continue to wear masks … and know that this still can happen to anyone. It’s tough for us right now, but we’re gonna get through it.”

This article has been updated with additional information.