Longtime baseball writer Mel Antonen is surely anticipating the start of a 2020 Major League Baseball season after months of salary disputes threatened to stall the campaign. But few in baseball media may be more aware of the risks as players prepare to begin a second “spring training” on July 1 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Antonen, now in his 10th season covering MLB for MASN Sports, revealed that he contracted the virus while undergoing treatment for a rare liver disease. He had already been in the hospital since January for five cycles of chemotherapy when doctors informed him that he tested positive for COVID-19.
“On March 19, one of my final chemo treatments at Sibley Memorial Hospital in northwest Washington was called off because of a low fever and constant cough.
“Two days later, after a nose-swab test in a drive-through tent outside Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, my wife, Lisa, delivered the news: ‘There’s no way to sugar-coat this. But you have COVID-19.’’
“It was shocking because we didn’t know how the double whammy of a virus with no cure and a liver disease with uncertain odds was going to play out. My doctor told me that my compromised immune system was strong enough to take on COVID-19. I kept telling myself that for comfort.”
After seven weeks of hospitalization for chemotherapy, Antonen then had to quarantine at home for 28 days. His wife appeared to contract the coronavirus as well, exhibiting symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Though Antonen doesn’t say she tested positive, it certainly appears that she was also infected and is still recovering months later.
My buddy, longtime sportswriter/baseball analyst @MelAntonen has been fighting a rare liver disease and then Covid-19 for months. He's now strong enough to write about this nightmare. Please read it. It's scary stuff, and is worth your time. https://t.co/0leOexkGwi
— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) June 26, 2020
After apparently recovering from the virus, Antonen suffered a relapse when he experienced fever, coughing, and shortness of breath again. He immediately went to an ER and tested positive again for COVID-19. Yet doctors diagnosed Antonen with neutropenia, a shortage of white blood cells common in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Drug therapy helped him recover six days later and he was sent home.
The entire account of Antonen’s ordeal is harrowing to read, but worth your attention. At the risk of wagging a finger, those who apparently have chosen not to believe in the seriousness (or validity) of this novel coronavirus and the need to take preventative and protective measures should take a look at what Antonen went through. Yes, he was already dealing with a serious autoimmune disease that threatened his life and required major treatment.
Antonen appears to be on his way to recovery with one chemotherapy cycle remaining, which is obviously good news. And if all goes well, he could be in a position to cover the 2020 MLB season when it finally begins at the end of July.
For someone who’s followed baseball for 35 years — reporting for USA Today, Sports Illustrated, MLB Network Radio, and MASN — the upcoming 60-game campaign (pending COVID-19 having an effect on play) could truly be a relief.