The doctors called and told Donovan Mitchell Sr. to unlock his hotel room door, slide the bolt so it stayed open and then stay back in the room.
That was unnerving. But then the doctors walked in wearing full hazmat suits and what started going through Mitchell’s mind that day — March 12, 2020 — was how sick might he be. And if he was indeed sick with COVID-19, had he gotten the entire Mets team ill as well?
“They were in there for two minutes to test me, then they left,” Mitchell said, remembering the unsettling times from a year ago. “I was left there for the next few days wondering if I had it or not and who else I might have given it to.”
This was part of a “scary, scary time” in the words of Mitchell, who was then the Mets’ longtime director of public relations and community engagement. On March 4, he had gone to see his son, the Utah Jazz star, Donovan Mitchell Jr., play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The following week, he was back at spring training in Port St. Lucie. On March 11, a Wednesday night, he had rushed back to the hotel after dinner with friends because the Jazz were to play at Oklahoma City. Mitchell turned on the game on his laptop, but muted the sound, and he was surprised the game had not started. He figured there had been a clock malfunction. Then the referees were waving the teams back to the locker room and Mitchell turned up the sound. But even before that, he was thinking, “Is this the virus?”
He and five buddies were supposed to leave for Salt Lake City the next day to attend three games in four days, but his FaceTime rang and first thing his son said was, “Cancel the trip.” Mitchell Jr. told him that a player on the team had tested positive, but didn’t say who (it was star center Rudy Gobert).
The next day Mitchell Sr. was on the phone with one friend, when another buzzed in to ask, “Is it true?” When he looked at the ticker on the TV, he knew what it was about: His son had tested positive for COVID, as well. Mitchell called his son, who assured him that he felt fine, no symptoms.
But there was no certainty regarding when Mitchell Jr. had contracted the virus. Mitchell Sr. had been with his son at the Garden, and he had set up tickets through the Knicks at a lesser cost for about 65 Mets employees, whom he had been around at the game. He had then traveled back to Port St. Lucie.
Now, after learning his son’s diagnosis, Mitchell mentally ran through pretty much every player on the Mets roster and, yep, he had contact with all of them.
“We had done an autograph signing, productions, appearances, I was hands-on with every player in that locker room,” Mitchell said. “If I had it, pretty much it was a done deal that I would pass it on to somebody. … Now, I am starting to panic. If I have it, I don’t want to be the reason why they can’t practice or they can’t play or I infected someone on the team.”
The panic worsened when the doctors in hazmat suits showed up to test him. It grew worse when the doctor called with the result, because she first said, “Hold on, Jeff Wilpon is on the call, too.”
“Now, I am really scared because why would Jeff be on the phone unless I had it?” Mitchell said. But Wilpon and Mitchell had a long, positive relationship and so the owner wanted to make the call.
“Jeff broke it to me: You are fine, you are good. That was a sigh of relief.”
The sport, like all sports, nevertheless, shut down. When baseball returned, Mitchell was installed in the newly created role of director of diversity, equity and inclusion. In December, right around Christmas, Mitchell did not feel well. He had contracted COVID-19, what turned out to be a minor case.
“It’s been such a weird, weird year,” Mitchell said. “Everyone has been affected.”