Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis has decided not to play in the 2020 Major League Baseball season, citing coronavirus concerns after talking to COVID-19-positive teammate Freddie Freeman.
Markakis became the ninth player to decide against playing in a virus-shortened 2020 MLB campaign that is set to open July 23 with teams playing in empty home stadiums.
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Markakis, 36, followed teammate Felix Hernandez in deciding to sit out following the Braves’ announcement Saturday that four players, including Freeman, had tested positive for the deadly virus.
“The biggest thing is I talked to Freddie Freeman the other day and just hearing the way he sounded on the phone opened my eyes,” Markakis said.
“Freddie didn’t sound good. I hope he’s doing good. I hope he’s healthy. It was tough. It was kind of eye-opening.”
Markakis, who spent his first nine seasons with Baltimore before joining Atlanta for the 2015 season, said the lack of fans at games and a desire to visit safely with his three children also played roles in his decision.
“It makes you open your eyes. I’ve got three kids that I’ve missed for 11 years now,” he said. “We play for the fans. Take them out of the equation, it’s tough.
“I hate to see it the way it’s going right now, but that’s the way things have to be,” he said. “The decision that I’m making to sit out this year and be with my family makes it tough, but I think that’s the right decision for myself and my family.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker stressed the need to follow social distancing and mask guidelines to combat COVID-19.
“This virus is real. It’s nothing to mess with,” he said. “We have to do everything.”
Markakis, an American of Greek heritage who played in the 2004 Athens Olympics for Greece, went an MLB outfielder-record 398 games without an error. He is a .288 career hitter with 188 home runs and is only 635 hits shy of the 3,000-hit career milestone.