Tim Tebow's PH debut postponed as baseball qualifiers postponed

The debut of former National Football League (NFL) quarterback Tim Tebow in a Philippine jersey will have to wait as organizers of the World Baseball Classic International (WBCI) qualifiers set in Tucson, Arizona decided to postpone the tournament due to growing concerns over the COVID-19 global pandemic.

This deference follows the lead of major sporting events around the world to quell the COVID-19 spread as more than one hundred countries have now reported cases.

A statement released by the WBCI, which is under the auspices of America's Major League Baseball (MLB), read:

"As part of Major League Baseball's response to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic, World Baseball Classic qualifier games in Tucson, (Arizona), have been postponed."

The Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) shared with ESPN5.com an email to them by the WBC organizers detailing the situation. Part of it read:

"Given the impact of COVID-19 affecting many people from around the world, WBCI decided that it is in the best interest of everyone involved to postpone the qualifiers set to begin tomorrow Friday March 13th through March 25th," the correspondence read. "Your respective team coordinators will work with you directly to change/update any flights anyone in your respective federations may have already taken in preparation for the event."

The Philippines was set to field in a 29-man roster in Pool 2 of the competition and were set to lock horns with world 26th-ranked Czech Republic in its scheduled opener on March 17th. The roster listed Tebow-a former Heisman trophy winner now plying his trade in the MLB AAA circuit-as an outfielder.

Tebow, a full-blooded American from Florida, was deemed eligible to see action for the Philippine squad due to being born in Makati City in 1987. He quickly grabbed the opportunity to play in the WBCI after the PABA made inquiries through the MLB. Tebow has spent a considerable amount of time in the country of his birth and has even been engaged in philanthropic activities in Davao.

"Of course we are disappointed that we are unable to proceed with WBCI at this time," PABA Secretary General Jose "Pepe" Muñoz told ESPN5.com via text message. "So much work was put in to prepare our team. But on the other hand we have a very serious health issue with the COViD-19 virus. At the same time, we are also exposed to serious travel restrictions as a result."

Muñoz was supposed to be the leader of the Philippine contingent along with PABA President Joaquin "Chito" Loyzaga and Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Commissioner Charles Raymond Maxie.

"It is the best for our athletes as we mitigate their exposure to the virus and we shield them from potential major inconveniences such as a quarantine either upon arrival in the US or upon return to Manila," Muñoz continued. "We learned a lot during our preparation for this tournament and the knowledge gained will help us when the WBCI qualifier is finally played.

"In the meantime, we continue our work to keep our national players ready."

In relation to this development, MLB has also pushed back the start of its regular season by two weeks in order to give ample time for all teams to prepare anew due to the work stoppage meted out of the precautions surrounding the COVID-19.

"MLB also announced Thursday that Spring Training games have been suspended, and Opening Day of the 2020 campaign will be delayed by at least two weeks, in the interest of the safety and well-being of players, fans and other baseball personnel," the MLB statement read.

As of posting time, there are 52 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, of which five have died. On Thursday night, President Duterte placed Metro Manila under community quarantine and banned mass gatherings from March 15 to April 14.

Officially known as COVID-19, this virus is a new strain of coronavirus that has surged around the globe in recent months. The coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory diseases.

Flu is caused by a different virus. There is no vaccine yet for COVID-19, though researchers are working on one and hope to begin testing soon. Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are most at risk.

The coronavirus spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes, though it also can be transferred from surfaces. The best way to prevent infection is by frequent hand-washing, cleaning surfaces with regular household sprays and wipes, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.