June 15, 2021

‘Unprecedented’: Coronavirus impacts sports like Spanish flu, 9/11 attacks, 2 world wars did not

Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez and the team’s young bullpen catcher, Mike Borzello, were in the middle of New York City on that sunny Tuesday morning that turned to smoke and horror in an instant.

“In a half-hour, our lives changed,” said Borzello, now the catching and run-prevention strategist on the Cubs’ coaching staff.

“The buildings come down. We’re trapped in Manhattan. We don’t know if we’re getting attacked.”

When baseball shut down last week because of the coronavirus pandemic — along with every other major professional sports league and the NCAA — that was one of the first flashes through Borzello’s emotions: the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“But that was a different feeling, obviously, than this,” he said as he spoke through a fence one morning this week, standing a safe distance of 8-10 feet away, at an otherwise quiet spring-training facility.

“This is more panic,” he said of the overall public response to the COVID-19 crisis that has shut down schools, businesses and even public beaches across the country in the last 10 days.

“This is more of a gradual understanding of what we’re dealing with — we’re still not sure to an extent. The question about 9/11 at the moment was, ‘Are we being attacked?’ Once we got past that, it was a moment. This is a slow burn right now.”

In fact, the Sept. 11 attacks shut down baseball for only a week, and the season was extended to allow the full schedule to be completed before starting a postseason in which Borzello’s Yankees reached the World Series.

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