Exclusive Q&A: Chris Cotillo Talks Coronavirus, MLB Suspension, Tom Brady, More

Feb 14, 2020; Lee County, Florida, USA; Boston Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke talks with media during spring training. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you have chosen to disconnect yourself from the real world for a month, you know that the coronavirus has put every sports season on pause.

With various uncertainties surrounding when sports will resume and what will happen in the meantime, we spoke with MassLive.com’s Red Sox beat reporter, Chris Cotillo, to discuss MLB’s indefinite suspension, the pandemic, and more.

The interview was conducted on Tuesday, March 17.

Andersen Pickard: At what point did you first realize, “Wow, this coronavirus could really do damage to our baseball season?”

Chris Cotillo: I think kind of like everybody — last Wednesday, when it was clear that teams in the NBA were going to start playing in empty arenas and then obviously the Rudy Gobert news came out and that wild half an hour. When the NBA suspended the season, I knew baseball would follow suit but it came quickly on everybody.

AP: What was the chatter like among both the players and media as the threat of the coronavirus grew stronger?

CC: It wasn’t a main focus but was something that was talked about. I was doing an interview in the clubhouse and the player I was talking to kept sniffling and coughing with really bad allergies, [but he did tell me] not to freak out. That was late February, soi it was on everybody’s mind at that point but not actively thinking it could delay the start of the season or suspend Spring Training or anything like that. I left on March 3 and by the time I was flying home, it was a big deal going through airports and being extra cautious. It was on my mind then but once I got home, the early part of last week, it wasn’t at the forefront of everybody’s mind that it could threaten the season.

AP: What did it feel like the day after the NBA suspended games when the MLB had not done anything yet? Was there a sense of, “Oh, something’s going to happen soon?”

CC: It was inevitable. At that point, the NCAA [cancellation] transpired throughout the day, every conference tournament was halted. It was just a matter of when [MLB] could get the press release out, and then it happened that afternoon. Not a surprise; not one league was going to be operating. If one league shut it down, they were all going to shut it down; I think that was clear. It was shocking to look [at the news] and there were no sports. It was jarring to see and I think it’s going to be a few months of that.

AP: If the NBA and NHL had not suspended their season, do you think MLB would have been the first league to do something, or do you think they were following the other leagues?

CC: The MLB had time on its side; the other ones were in more dire circumstances having indoor arenas with 30,000 people every night. I think they were going to be the first ones to make a decision no matter what because MLB was going to have to follow suit. MLB or the NFL were not going to be the first ones but they put the onus on the NBA and NHL to do so.

AP: Once MLB made the announcement that spring training games were canceled, what was your reaction when you considered what would happen going forward? 

CC: The question everybody is asking right now is when is this going to start, when will it be back to normal, how is the schedule going to look? There’s no way to really know, not just in baseball but in life about when things will get back under control. Patience is important. … The MLB season, it was telling that the first thing they said was a delay of a couple weeks and within three days, their best-case scenario was from April 10 to the end of May. Within three days, it was pushed back a month and a half. The end of May still looks on the aggressive side. We’re going to be in this for the long haul. For me in my job as a baseball writer, trying to find content to fill that time is going to be a unique challenge. … It will test the creative minds of people who cover different sports.

AP: If you were commissioner and the season were to resume at the end of May, how would you manage the season?

CC: [MLB] said they were hoping to get 162 and I thought that was a little ridiculous because they are pushing November at that point and I don’t think anybody really views that as a likely scenario. We’re going to see all these leagues doing things on the fly. I have seen people talk about playing games at indoor stadiums; there are eight MLB stadiums with retractable roofs and in Tampa, a non-retractable roof. Then, you can add in L.A., Anaheim, and San Diego, so that is three warm-weather places. There are really 11 ballparks that are going to be operable year-round; they might have to look at that. The prospect of playing baseball at Fenway in November doesn’t seem too likely to me. It’s going to be a unique challenge and I think the idea of 162 is kind of ridiculous. Something more likely might be an 81-game season. They’re going to try to get as many in as possible but they can’t push it back that far and you’re going to be seeing a lot of sports trying to catch up all at once.

AP: If the coronavirus gets worse, could you see MLB canceling the entire 2020 season?

CC: I definitely think it’s a possibility. If the social distancing measures don’t do enough to flatten the curve, it is definitely possible, unfortunately. We’re definitely not close to there yet but it’s definitely in the realm of possibility.

AP: How great of an impact will this suspension have on baseball’s ratings?

CC: MLB is not going to be the only people dealing with it and this doesn’t help too much, but every industry is going to suffer. The whole economy is going to suffer so at least baseball is not dealing with it uniquely, so that is the silver lining there. These rights-holders and TV networks pay for 162 games. It’s unprecedented territory and there’s going to be a lot of money lost by a lot of people all over the world. Baseball is going to be no exception to that.

AP: To switch to football, Tom Brady is not returning to the Patriots. What is your initial reaction as someone who grew up as a Boston sports fan?

CC: It is the end of an era. I’ve seen guys come and go. I am 24 so when Brady started and came in for Bledsoe, I was approaching my sixth birthday. … There is sadness but at the same time, it is time for appreciation. We just witnessed the greatest era of an athlete in any city ever. You couldn’t have asked for anything more. A lot of New Englanders are going to be rooting for him [with the Buccaneers] and this story is not over. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots or Brady won a Super Bowl in the next couple of years. [Bill] Belichick and Brady are going to be going at it to see who can win without the other one so it will be very fascinating.

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