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MLB 2020 season blueprint evolves, with Florida now in mix

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A plan to play the MLB 2020 season is evolving, with Florida spring-training sites now in the mix, a postseason schedule and neutral-site World Series planned, and a two-league realignment based on geography.

The original game plan floated last week and reported by us earlier involved the use of only Phoenix-area spring-training venues, as well as the potential of moving play to home ballparks somewhere down the line. With warnings from public officials like California Gov. Gavin Newsom that sports venues are unlikely to reopen before the fall, the new plan from MLB does anticipate playing the full season in empty spring-training ballparks. Players would essentially be in quarantine, with a season running through November and a World Series played in domed ballparks in Arizona, Miami or Tampa Bay.

The schedule, which would be based on three divisions each in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, would feature 12 games against divisional rivals and six against other league teams. Doubleheaders would still be on the agenda, though likely seven-inning affairs. Rosters would be expanded, and a DH would be used across the sport. From Bob Nightengale:

“When you’re trying to get really creative, why say no now?’’ says Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, the Angels’ senior adviser of baseball operations who has been briefed of the potential plan. “So you have a unique season. I’ve got no problem with that.

“I’m not sure we’ll be able play in our own cities across the country, so if you split it up like that, it’s a possibility.’’

When the Arizona-only proposal was floated this week, early reaction from players was mostly positive with qualifications, with the biggest objection being players would be apart from their facilities during the season. However, that objection seemed to wane when it was pointed out that Latin American players already were spending seasons away from their families under a normal MLB schedule. Here’s one reaction from Kansas City Royals reliever Trevor Rosenthal, as conveyed to the New York Post:

“I am in support of the plan,” Rosenthal said. “I think it’s in the best interest of the nation for MLB to go through with this plan as quickly as possible. It will provide us an opportunity to inspire and set an example for everyone. By us adhering to strict new guidelines, we will display a model for isolation and function for businesses across the nation. We are at war and this is what we can do to help fight for our country. Provide the hope and discipline needed to get through this difficult time.

“Baseball players are the most resilient of all athletes to answer this call. The ups and downs, failures and successes, the unknowns, are all constant in our profession. This is our chance to work for the good of our people and set our country out in front of the rest.”

Florida does represent a challenge in terms of getting players around. In Arizona, every camp is in the Valley of the Sun and represents an easy commute. It’s 44 miles from Surprise Stadium (Rangers/Royals spring home) to HoHoKam Stadium (Athletics spring home). If we look at clusters of five in the Grapefruit League, we’d end up with three divisions that can be scheduled with as little travel as possible. A Tampa division would range from Bradenton to Lakeland, a Gulf Coast division would range from North Port to Fort Myers, and a Palm Beach division would range from Port St. Lucie to West Palm Beach.

The big winner would be broadcasters thirsty for new content, per Nightengale:

Financially, it could be a huge boon for the TV rights holders. You could have a captive TV audience the entire day. Games in Florida could begin at 11 a.m. ET and still have games  in prime-time for East Coast teams and their fans. The time slots still would permit West Coast teams to play prime-time games in Arizona.

Again, this is still a work in progress, and you won’t see anything actually implemented until testing becomes more widespread and public-health officials give the go-ahead. While late May has been discussed (i.e., Memorial Day), the more likely start date for a three-week training camp would be at some point in June.

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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