There are no plans for Major League Baseball to delay the regular season or play games in empty ballparks at the beginning of the 2020 season, as recorded cases of the coronavirus continues to rise in the United States.
This morning Nippon Professional Baseball announced a delay in the start of the regular season from March 20 to early April, both the NHL and the NBA are making contingency plans to play in empty arenas, the NCAA has formed a coronavirus advisory panel with programs playing in empty arenas, and it appears MLS attendance in Seattle has already been impacted by coronavirus concerns. In addition, MLB has issued guidelines to team to pass on handshakes or signing autographs with fan-supplied items in spring training. The next step for MLB: restrict access to player facilities to essential personnel only, with media access outside the clubhouse, per an statement issued today:
“The health and safety of everyone in our communities is of the utmost importance to us. We have been engaging on an ongoing basis with a wide range of public health experts, infectious disease specialists, and governmental agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to obtain the latest information. We are regularly conveying the guidance from these experts to Clubs, players, and staff regarding prevention, good hygiene practices and the latest recommendations related to travel. We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary. While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play spring training and regular season games as scheduled.
“On a temporary basis, effective on Tuesday, only players and essential personnel may enter locker rooms and clubhouses at MLB facilities. In a joint step with other professional sports leagues, we are requiring that Clubs relocate media availabilities to another area in their facilities. Clubs will be expected to provide best efforts in facilitating usual media coverage and access to uniformed personnel and team officials in these alternate settings. Access for and coverage by the BBWAA and all media are vital to our game and we hope to resume normal operations as quickly as possible. We appreciate the media’s cooperation with this temporary step, which is being taken out of an abundance of caution for the best interests of all.”
As noted earlier, Washington state has been a center of coronavirus activity in the United States, but the Seattle Mariners do not expect to change plans to start the regular season at home on March 26, per a statement from the team:
“The health and well-being of our fans and employees is our top priority. We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with local public health authorities. Right now, public health officials are not advising the postponement or cancellation of public events. We fully expect to play baseball at T-Mobile Park beginning March 26. Currently, we are following guidance from public health authorities and our medical staff to provide training and resources to safeguard the health and well-being of our staff and provide a safe and sanitary facility for the start of the season in four weeks. This is an evolving situation and we’ll continue to keep fans updated by email, social media and our website.”
One thing to note: the Mariners will be hosting the Texas Rangers at that T-Mobile season opener, and it has been confirmed by all sides that the Rangers new ballpark could be used in a worst-case scenario. This has a few advantages: it avoids a large gathering where the coronavirus could spread and it allows the Mariners and Rangers both to skip a trip to Seattle.
Though the World Health Organization is on the verge of deeming the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic, the number of confirmed cases in the United States, though growing, is much lower than recorded in the rest of the world.