As hard as it may be to comprehend, the canceled Opening Day was just 13 days ago. So much has changed since then, and baseball is trying to prevent a full season from being lost to the coronavirus pandemic.
When fans woke up on Tuesday, many read a report from ESPN.com that MLB and the Players Association were discussing inventive ideas to play what they could of a 2020 season.
One idea that reportedly was gaining traction was to gather all 30 major league teams in Arizona and begin the season as early as sometime next month.
The idea was intriguing, even if it had many logistical questions. Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Brett Anderson took to Twitter, highlighting a passage in the ESPN.com report, that questions whether players would accept a possible 4 ½-month quarantine in Arizona without their families.
“It begins and ends right here,” he wrote.
The idea that players and major league staffs would stay in relative isolation for an extended period, traveling only to and from the ballpark, is an unpopular one.
Eireann Dolan, the wife of Washington Nationals reliver Sean Doolittle, who is widely followed on Twitter for her outspoken opinions, denounced the idea, writing:
“Ok now what about the non-millionaire hotel workers, security staff, grounds crews, media members, team traveling staffs, clubhouse attendants, janitorial workers, food service workers, and the billion other people required to make that 3.5 hour game happen every night?”
Later Tuesday morning, MLB released a statement:
“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”
Staging 15 major league games per day in Arizona would be difficult. There are only 10 spring training facilities in addition to Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks. Additional fields used by local colleges would have to be employed.
Playing outdoor games in Arizona during spring training in February and March is fine, but in June, July and August, the daytime weather is brutally hot with temperatures in Phoenix averaging 100 degrees or more.
If no fans are going to be admitted, and the games become, in effect, studio shows for local or national television broadcasts, accommodations would need to be made for television trucks, where social distancing is impossible.
It would be a big negative for MLB for it to lose an entire season, especially when it’s already in a difficult competition with other sports for fans.
If there’s no season, there could be no baseball from last October until March 2021. The NBA and NHL, which played nearly all of their regular seasons, could resume next fall or winter with less damage than baseball. Should the pandemic abate later this summer or early fall, the NFL and college football could proceed as well.
Many avid fans long for the return of baseball, but know there’s something more important at stake.
It seems premature, at best, to be speculating about these ideas because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people, are in effect for another month. Many state guidelines, including Maryland, limit groups to 10 or fewer.
MLB is afraid of losing television revenue and should this no-fans proposal be adopted in some form, they’d be relinquishing all gate and concession revenue.
Perhaps the crisis will lessen in the coming weeks, and if games must be played in empty parks, they could be in major league stadiums with teams self-quarantining in their hotels, if necessary. Marylanders seem to have done an excellent job at adopting Governor Hogan’s guidelines. Vehicle and foot traffic is a fraction of what it normally is.
There is hope that baseball comes back in some form this year. The good news is that MLB and the players are determined to make that happen. Unless and until it does, there probably will be other over-the-top proposals to contemplate. Maybe one will come to fruition.