Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis has opted out of the 2020 MLB season.
The 36-year-old said he was uneasy about playing the season without fans and then was swayed by his telephone conversation with teammate Freddie Freeman, who has tested positive for the coronavirus and has a fever and other symptoms.
“Just hearing him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough,” Markakis said Monday. “It was kind of eye-opening. With everything that’s going on, not just with baseball but all over the world, it makes you open your eyes.”
Markakis became the second Braves player to opt out. Over the weekend, pitcher Felix Hernandez said he wouldn’t play this year.
Dodgers pitcher David Price, Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond are among the other players who have opted out.
Braves first-base coach Eric Young Sr. also will sit out the season.
After nine seasons with Baltimore, Markakis was entering his sixth season with Atlanta. He was competing for a spot in a crowded Braves outfield after the offseason signing of Marcell Ozuna.
Manager Brian Snitker plans to play Ozuna and Ronald Acuna Jr. every game, though Ozuna could be the designated hitter. Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Adam Duvall and others were competing for other spots and were joined by rookies Cristian Pache and Drew Waters.
Markakis hit .285 with nine homers and 62 RBIs in 2019, a year after he was an All-Star.
Freeman, top setup man Will Smith, right-hander Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma tested positive for the coronavirus. Snitker said Saturday that Smith and Toussaint have no symptoms, while Kozma also has a fever.
Snitker said Monday that the four continue to progress through protocols. He said it wouldn’t be fair to the players to provide more detailed daily updates.
Snitker said he respected the decision by Markakis, who he said is “an ultimate pro.” Snitker said losing the respected veteran was a blow to the team’s hopes for winning a third straight NL East title. “We’ll miss him,” Snitker said.
“He’s one of our backbones of our club. I know he’s been thinking long and hard about it. … When you lose a guy of that stature and what he brings and the player he is, it doesn’t help you, that’s for sure.”
Snitker, 64, acknowledged he also has concerns about his health during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Honestly, yeah,” Snitker said. “I feel great right here. I think I’ll be fine these three weeks. The traveling worries me more than anything, I think. … The fact we’ve had some positive tests makes you realize this is real. This virus is real, and it’s nothing to mess with.”
Markakis has three children. He said he has the “overwhelming support” of his family in his decision to miss a season he said wouldn’t have been the same without fans.
“I’m at the point in my career where I’m not chasing the money,” he said. “I’m not chasing any of that. … This game is about having fun, and having to go out there and play in an environment without fans, it’s not baseball to me.”
He said he doesn’t know how opting out could affect his hopes for playing in 2021.
“We’ll see. I want to see how this year plays out,” Markakis said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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