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AP photo by Michael Dwyer / Boston Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez pitches against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 29, 2019. Rodriguez is still sidelined by the lingering effects of COVID-19.

If you closed your eyes, it sounded like real baseball this weekend. You heard crowd noises. You heard organ music. The announcers sounded as if they were in the stadium.

But then you opened your eyes to empty stadiums, or some seats filled with cardboard cutouts of people, and base coaches wearing masks — some of them even worn properly — and you realized that all of this only looks and feels normal if we hear instead of see.

This isn't to say that on some emotional level we probably don't need the return of Major League Baseball. And the National Basketball Association. And, in a few weeks, the National Football League.

And, clearly, in the Deep South, we believe we need the return of football at all levels, especially high school and college, coronavirus pandemic be darned.

Moreover, should the Southeastern Conference play, however many football games it deems to play, one suspects the sight of an empty stadium and piped-in noise won't bother anyone. We'll have our football back in some form or fashion, and we'll be happy.

But this story also emerged this weekend from the Boston Red Sox regarding pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who was initially believed to be OK after an earlier bout with COVID-19.

It seems that Rodriguez, who was first diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on July 7, is struggling with myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle, according to NBC News in Boston.

The condition has been seen in more and more COVID-19 patients, especially younger ones, which has led doctors to put Rodriguez's return to the mound on hold for at least a week.

"That's the most important part of your body," the expected ace of the BoSox told NBC. "The first time I hear, I was kind of scared a little. Now that I know what it is, I'm still scared, but now I know exactly what it is. I just talk to my mom, talk to my wife, let them know what I have, and now I've got to take the rest."

Whether it be a little or a lot, this should scare athletes everywhere. Especially the younger ones in high school and college. Myocarditis can lead to arrhythmias. Arrhythmias can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Just this past weekend, the state of Florida announced that a 9-year-old girl with no known underlying health conditions became the youngest person to die from coronavirus complications in the Sunshine State. Kimora "Kimmie" Lynum was taken to the hospital with a high fever on July 18. She returned home but collapsed and died a short time later.

According to state records, more than 23,000 minors have tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida with a positivity rate of 13.4%.

What's important about this is that the previous notion that the disease wasn't serious in children may be wrong. And at least as it pertains to the return of high school football, we're often dealing with older children, or at least teenagers, many of them no older than 14 or 15.

Though we seem determined to pretend otherwise, this is not getting better. At least 1,000 people died on Wednesday of this past week. And Thursday. And Friday. And Saturday. According to the latest government estimates, at its current uptick, the virus could claim a total of 175,000 American lives by Aug. 15. A more conservative estimate is 165,000. We've currently lost a shade more than 146,000 people in the United States to the disease.

If you can live in a virtual "bubble," as the NBA is doing in the Orlando, Florida, area — or test every day as the NFL may do — perhaps you can reasonably control the risk. As the Rodriguez situation underscores, though, the risks keep changing, or at least becoming more clear, and none of those risks appear to be decreasing.

It has undoubtedly been fun to watch the Braves and Mets and Nationals and Dodgers and Giants the past few days. A few of you have even probably enjoyed watching the Yankees, who, sadly, look pretty darn good after one weekend of play.

And whether or not the pandemic's worsening numbers force our government officials to lock the country down again, leaving pro athletes to play their games in empty stadiums, however odd that dynamic, might still be a good thing for all our psyches.

You can't put high school kids in an environment remotely approaching a bubble, however. What they get, they bring home at night to family members of all ages. Maybe we'll ignore that, and maybe we won't. Maybe we can live with the potential tragic consequences of that, and maybe we can't.

But as the death of 9-year-old "Kimmie" Lynum proved, as the discovery of myocarditis in Eduardo Rodriguez also proves, what we know most about COVID-19 is that we don't yet know nearly enough to feel safe in its midst.

Or as Rodriguez said, "The first time I hear, I was kind of scared a little. Now that I know what it is, I'm still scared."

At least we all should be. Closing our eyes during a baseball game can be a good thing. Closing our eyes to the realities of this pandemic is not.

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Mark Wiedmer

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

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