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MLB, MLBPA discuss launching 2020 season in Arizona

Chase Field

A proposal to begin the 2020 season in Arizona, sans fans and played at spring-training facilities, was a topic of discussion between MLB officials and MLBPA reps yesterday regarding the state of play in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The idea has been discussed in MLB circles for several days — we’ve written repeatedly about the prospect of an Arizona-only start to the season several times — but this is the first time the concept of potentially a season-long schedule played in Arizona has been raised to players. MLBPA will take the concept to players for feedback. It will be interesting to hear their response: at a time when it’s increasingly looking like a resumption of play won’t be possible until August or even September, the notion of launching an MLB season in Arizona will surely be tempting. Once more data regarding the coronavirus pandemic is available, MLB officials could then shift games to MLB ballparks — or, in a worst-case scenario, finish out the 2020 season in Arizona.

Ten facilities host 15 MLB teams during spring training. In addition, games can be held at Chase Field, regular-season home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as Phoenix Municipal Stadium (a former spring-training home of the Oakland Athletics, now home to Arizona State baseball) and even GCU Ballpark, home of the GCU Antelopes. While agent Scott Boras has talked of climate-controlled Chase Field hosting three games a day, you’d still need other ballparks to host action–and given Phoenix’s climate in May and June, that means night games. Depending on many players are brought to camp, a training facility like American Family Fields of Phoenix, Milwaukee Brewers spring home, could host another MLB team in the minor-league clubhouse. It would not be a comfortable existence for the players being away from home and family, to be sure, potentially living in under quarantine.

The big reason why MLB is looking at centralizing play: travel. Every camp is in the Valley of the Sun and represents an easy commute, while there’s a lot more bus travel in Florida and Grapefruit League facilities. It’s 44 miles from Surprise Stadium (Rangers/Royals spring home) to HoHoKam Stadium (Athletics spring home), the two outliers on the Cactus League map. From AP:

“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.”

“It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy,” Boras added. “You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s really good for a culture to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus.”

We received the following statement from Major League Baseball:

“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.”

With hourly news about the spread of the coronavirus impacting the sports-business and facilities industries, it’s more important than ever to stay up with the latest news in the venues industry. That’s why we’re launching a new Venues Digest newsletter focusing on coronavirus information across the ballparks, arenas, stadiums, theater and performing-arts worlds. For now it will appear daily, and for now it will be free of charge to industry professionals. Sign up here.

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