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AP file photo by Charlie Riedel / Four-time MLB All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman was one of four Atlanta Braves whose positive tests for COVID-19 were announced Saturday.

Befitting someone with 227 home runs and a .293 batting average for his career, Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman has been sending chills through major league pitching staffs for close to a decade.

But this weekend's news that Freeman has not only contracted COVID-19 but also, according to his wife, Chelsea, been "hit like a ton of bricks" by it should send the chill of all chills through those wishing to restart professional sports during the pandemic, and that includes Major League Baseball.

After all, this isn't some 60-year-old manager or coach who's struggling with the virus. This is a 30-year-old four-time MLB All-Star whose wife also wrote in her post on social media that he "literally never gets sick."

Beyond that, it's not like Freeman has been out there socializing in large crowds without a mask and hand sanitizer.

Again, according to Chelsea: "(We) haven't gone to a grocery store, haven't gone out to dinner once, haven't seen our friends and only allowed family at our house and we still got it."

And once Freeman got it, boy did he get it, his wife describing his symptoms thusly: "Body aches, headaches, chills and high fever."

Unfortunately, that could be just the start of Freeman's problems. As has been written and addressed numerous times before, there is neither rhyme nor reason to what the novel coronavirus does to those it attacks. The vast majority of cases are apparently mild, to the point that many of the victims never even know they have it.

Others exhibit flu-like symptoms — such as actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, who are married — and are back to normal within a couple of weeks. Then there are those whose lives are not only threatened while the virus is active, but whose lungs, kidneys and even their brains may suffer long-term — if not permanent — damage.

Nor should anyone gamble on the notion that only older folks or those with preexisting conditions such as diabetes are at serious risk to die from COVID-19. Nationwide, 15 children ages 4 or younger had been lost to the virus as of June 27. More than 770 from the ages of 25 to 34 have perished over that same span of time.

Yes, the odds are with you, especially in the age range of Freeman and most other professional athletes. But when life as we'd always previously known it pretty much stopped on Thursday, March 12, it was largely tipped off by a single NBA player, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, testing positive for COVID-19. He wasn't even all that sick at that moment, yet all sports — high school, college and professional — ground to a screeching halt.

Now Freeman — someone who supposedly never gets sick — is hit like a ton of bricks by the virus, and we expect all these pro baseball, basketball and football players to put their multimillion dollar careers at risk, not to mention the lives of their loved ones, when there is still neither a remedy nor a vaccine?

Are we absolutely, positively nuts?

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AP photo by John Amis / Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman sits in the dugout during Game 5 of their best-of-five National League Division Series against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 9, 2019.

Listen, no one wants to see sports at all levels return more than yours truly. The continuation of my 37-year career at this newspaper may even depend on it. That may even be our biggest problem concerning this pandemic. It's become a nightmarish tug of war — and understandably so for those without a financial safety net — between health and wealth, however meager one's own wealth may be.

But there are risks worth taking and those best to avoid, and with every passing day and every fresh American death — now north of 132,000 and counting — the risk of challenging COVID-19 hardly seems worth the reward. On Sunday, a day after the positive tests for Freeman and three other Atlanta players were announced, veteran pitcher Felix Hernandez told the Braves he had decided not to play this year because of the pandemic.

Merely return to Gobert, who was running up and down mountains to stay in shape just two weeks after his diagnosis. That alone should define the overall mildness of his case. Yet less than two weeks ago — or more than 14 weeks after his original diagnosis — Gobert told a French newspaper he still had not fully recovered his sense of smell.

"The taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100%," Gobert explained. "I can smell smells, but not from afar. I spoke to specialists, who told me that it could take up to a year (to return to normal)."

Not to be argumentative, but how would they know? COVID-19 has only been around since late fall, to our knowledge. It's impossible to know at this point if his sense of smell could fully return in a year. Or three years. Or ever.

A more worrisome reason to consider suspending sports until a remedy or vaccine is approved: A University of Illinois computer science professor told CBSSports.com that he's projecting a 30% to 50% infection rate for COVID-19 among college football's estimated 13,000 players in the Bowl Subdivision if games are played this fall. He also predicted that three to seven of those infected would die.

How'd you like to be a conference commissioner or athletic director if one of those deaths fell under your umbrella?

And that fatality estimate has nothing to do with the parents, grandparents or older athletic personnel those players might put at risk should they come down with the virus but fail to show any signs of it. Instead of Typhoid Mary, we're about to meet COVID Barry.

As Braves manager Brian Snitker met with the media over the weekend to discuss Freeman, he said, "It sobers everybody up that this is real. It shows that this is a real deal and no one is immune to it."

Which leads to this question: With no one immune, every age group at risk and no vaccine or remedy in sight, what are we thinking by needlessly challenging a monster we cannot see?

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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