Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., prior to the beginning of the 2021 Major League Baseball season.
For the second year in a row, a positive COVID-19 test has impacted the Nationals' opening day. Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Few things have gone according to plan for the Washington Nationals this past week. Not only was the team forced to postpone its highly anticipated opening day game against the New York Mets on April 1 just hours before it was set to begin, but the Nationals have yet to play any games due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the organization. Major League Baseball announced Sunday night that the Nationals will begin their season Tuesday when they host the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park.

As of Sunday afternoon, four players on the Nationals have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation. Seven additional players are in quarantine after contact tracing deemed them to have been in close contact with the infected players, meaning that a total of 11 players have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak that started last week and will miss several games. Two staff members are also in quarantine, and the team is continuing to conduct regular COVID-19 tests.

The Nationals, which had zero positive COVID-19 tests through spring training, are dealing with a full-blown outbreak. The news is both sobering and a reminder that, as eager as people are for a return to normalcy, the pandemic never left. None of the position players had practiced or worked out as a team in a week until today, and pitchers only started individual exercises or bullpen sessions on Sunday. 

“You have to be very creative at times. Baseball is a difficult sport to recreate in a basement or a hotel room or an apartment, if you will,” Nationals general manager and president Mike Rizzo said. “So they’re trying creative ways to stay as loose as they can, but nothing can simulate being on the field and with live action.”

Shortly before the season began, the D.C. government allowed the Nationals to host 5,000 fans per game at Nationals Park, and the postponed Opening Day game will be the first time the players get a chance to compete in front of their fans since Game 5 of the 2019 World Series. Because of COVID-19, several of them won’t be in the ballpark when that happens tomorrow.

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