Last week, Major League Baseballin response to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Opening Day, which was scheduled for March 26, may not occur until May, June, or even July, depending on the effectiveness of containment strategies. COVID-19 has already impacted the baseball world, but some within the industry, such as those who work abroad, have already lived through a more advanced stage of the pandemic.
That includes Max Marchi, a statistical analyst with the Cleveland organization since 2014. His job is, essentially, to leverage data to uncover insights. Prior to joining the team, he was a hobbyist who worked in healthcare as a statistician and data manager and wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he specialized in quantifying aspects of catchers' defense, including framing and game-calling. Marchi has lived in and worked remotely from Italy, one of the countries most impacted by COVID-19, throughout his life.
Marchi was generous enough to answer some questions through email about his experience and his advice for American counterparts.
Most importantly, how are you and yours doing?
I'm doing well, I'm healthy and so is everyone I know, thankfully.
Where are you based in Italy?
My hometown is Sasso Marconi (named after its most illustrious citizen, Guglielmo Marconi). The biggest city nearby is Bologna, 20 minutes away, the chief town of Emilia-Romagna, the region with the second-highest number of confirmed cases so far.
What has a typical day been like for you over the past month?
First of all, all these events seem to have stretched and bent time in a strange way. You ask me about a month time frame, and as I think about how my life has evolved recently, I'm not sure if I'm thinking about a week ago or a month ago. Sometimes it feels a year.
I remember one Saturday night I was with friends at someone's place (we stopped going to public places a while ago) talking about the first cases in the country, then the next week we were together but not shaking hands and sitting a few feet from each other, and then the next week we were having our Saturday night together over Google Hangouts.
Right now we are allowed to get out only for buying groceries or medicines and we have to carry a signed paper where we declare the reason for being out. Small stores you get in one person at a time, with the line forming outside (and 3-6 feet between people). Only one person per family can go. You're not allowed to cross municipal borders.
From a work perspective, I have been working remotely for years, so my routine hasn't changed -- except my girlfriend is now my office mate.
How often have you been in contact with the Cleveland organization?
Every day, multiple times.
What was your reaction when the American sporting leagues started to shut down?
I was not surprised. I had seen all the hockey leagues here in Europe suspending operations one after the other. They were all about to start the postseason and they just shut down the season entirely. So I thought it was just a matter of when, not if, the American sporting leagues did the same.
My understanding is you used to work in healthcare analysis. Has that phase of your life been useful in understanding the pandemic data and/or how it's presented?
Yeah, I used to work in public health, and I was a statistician in the Infectious Disease department for the Regional Health Agency. So, while I can't claim to be a subject expert, I can say I know a few things. And yeah, it helps not being overwhelmed when you get the daily news and numbers.
What's the biggest misconception Americans have about the coronavirus?
I don't know what everyone is thinking about it. The people I interact with on a daily basis have taken this pretty seriously, which is good.
My followers on Twitter are obviously a biased sample of the American population, with similar interests and background to mine, and thus more likely to react more or less the way I do to things.
But obviously I have seen pictures and videos of packed bars and beaches, and I thought "oh no, they are repeating the same mistakes we did."
If you think this is just a flu, think twice. The Lombardia Region, the hardest hit here, is on the verge of collapsing: ICUs are running above capacity, they are transferring via helicopter ICU patients to other hospitals around the country, they are calling doctors out of retirement, they are accelerating the graduation of new doctors, the Army is building battlefield hospitals on the fly. Some towns can't even deal with all the deaths happening and have to send coffins to other cities because they can't keep up with the daily number of cremations.
In case you're wondering, we have a good healthcare here, and Lombardia is elite.
What advice would you give to anyone reading?
Stay home and follow indications from health authorities.
Here we have seen so many videos shot by nurses and doctors, their face ruined by wearing a mask non-stop, begging for us to stay home because their ICUs are hitting the limits and they have to live separated from their spouses and kids.
If you follow social distancing recommendations as they are rolled out, there's a better chance of avoiding a statewide lockdown later.