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MLB, MiLB Season Openers Could Be Delayed to May

Major League BaseballWith Dr. Anthony Fauci estimating it could take eight weeks or more for the coronavirus pandemic to run its course in the United States, we could see the MLB and MiLB 2020 seasons pushed back to May.

Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has emerged as the Trump Administration’s lead voice on the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday he delivered a sober warning that we’re in uncharted territory when it comes to the ultimate impact of the pandemic:

“It’s going to be at least a matter of several weeks,” Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I mean it’s unpredictable but if you look at historically, how these things work, it’ll likely be anywhere from a few weeks up to eight weeks or more,” he said, adding that he hopes it’s going to be only two, three or four weeks.

“It’s really impossible to make an accurate prediction,” he said.

The New York Times ran a lengthy piece on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, estimated by government scientists at the end of February, presenting a series of best-case and worst-case scenarios involving the number of citizens infected, the potential number of deaths, and the length of the pandemic. The worst-case scenario has the pandemic running for a year, but that estimate came at a time before current health-related measures, such as the suspension of large gatherings and the closing of schools and borders, were implemented.

Still, with Fauci estimating eight weeks or more of shutdowns, the announcement by MLB that a two-week delay to the start of the season may be overly optimistic. Here’s the MLB announcement regarding a two-week delay to the season, made just two days ago (although it feels like a lifetime ago). And here’s MLB’s announcement that the remainder of spring training was officially canceled and players were free to go home:

After an in-person meeting with MLBPA officials in Arizona, Major League Baseball announced today that spring training camps will be suspended, effective immediately. Major League players can elect to return home, remain in their spring training cities, or return to their Club’s home city. This step is in the best interests of players, employees and the communities who host spring training.

MLB will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by coronavirus.

After spending a lot of time on the phone yesterday (and let’s face it: with the season suspended, lots of MLB and MiLB folks have plenty of time to chat on the phone), it’s clear the reality of the 2020 season delay is sinking in: though Fauci optimistically said a few weeks of delay is theoretically impossible, most planners expect things to normalize in a month at the earliest, which means we could see players report in the middle of April and resume workouts before a regular-season start in late April. But, if Fauci’s estimate of eight weeks is correct, we’re looking at a report date of mid-May and MLB games launching after that–which could push the MiLB season into late May or early June. (Another side effect to this timeline: it would probably mean a delay of the independent-baseball season or even potentially the summer-collegiate season.) Hope we’re wrong.

Now, there are a few factors that could change this estimate. First, if it appears the growth of the coronavirus is slowed enough to an acceptable point, MLB could indeed return players to training camps and begin play there, albeit with no fans allowed. Or there’s the chance MLB could extend the regular season well into October to accomodate a 162-game schedule. But there’s precedent for playing a shorter season.

So, to sum up: any notion that MLB and MiLB will be playing any time soon is probably misguided, and we may be waiting up to eight to 10 weeks before the regular season starts. We’re in uncharted territory, and we just don’t have the data needed to present firm plans for the 2020 season.

RELATED STORIES: Surprise! Spring Training’s Canceled. What’s Next?MLB Season Delayed For Two Weeks, MiLB Season Indefinitely

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