We have another trial balloon to examine regarding the potential launch of a 2020 MLB season, this one with teams skipping Arizona and Florida and training out of their home ballparks before a limited season begins—but many details still need to be addressed before baseball returns.
The newest iteration of a plan to launch the 2020 MLB season may be less a plan and more an aspiration at this point. According to Bob Nightengale, teams could now bypass training in Florida and Arizona camps and instead spend three weeks training at their home ballparks, basically playing intrasquad games before the beginning of a season. This has the advantage of players staying with their families while working toward game shape, and also spares the expense of MLB teams of opening spring-training camps and bringing in MLB players from afar. It would also provide perhaps an earlier start to the season.
Now, there are plenty of holes with this latest trial balloon, the least of which being that current social distancing guidelines don’t allow for gatherings of ballplayers, and testing needs to dramatically ramp up in the next month.
But this isn’t the only new plan floating around out there. As reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the season would launch in centralized spots—say, Florida and Arizona, or Florida, Arizona and Texas—and then after five weeks there would be a break to evaluate whether the season could continue in home ballparks. To minimize travel, there would be three 10-team regional divisions. We may see a situation where a team can’t return to their home ballpark because of coronavirus pandemic concerns, forcing a team to play the entire season on the road. Playing an entire season under quarantine doesn’t seem to generate much enthusiasm in baseball circles, however:
“How can we get into our parks as soon as we can with all the appropriate mitigation—social distancing, taking temperature checks, wearing masks, wearing gloves,” New York Yankees team president Randy Levine said during a Fox News interview. “I think it’s all doable because I think that, to have games just on TV for the whole season for many, many reasons is not practical.”
That’s just one iteration. In other words, there is no single plan; there are plenty of scenarios. There are some constants among the scenarios: MLB would need to test players, coaches, staff and broadcasters on a regular basis, and there would need to be time for training before the games start. If fans are allowed in, they’re be required to wear masks, observe social-distancing rules and undergo temperature checks upon entry. All in all, we could see a regular season running between 80 and 100 games, with expanded rosters, and culminating in the late fall with expanded playoffs played at warm-weather covered ballparks.
On the one hand, the details seem to change every few days. But, in another way, the schedule hews pretty closely to what we reported when the coronavirus pandemic shut down play: A final decision on the season coming around Memorial Day, and the potential season launch during the July 4 holiday weekend. A season launch in mid-June doesn’t seem to be realistic.
But before we get all light-headed at the prospect of the MLB season launching in July, let’s circle back to the experts. Reports say plans rest on stay-at-home orders being lifted in states like Colorado, Georgia and Minnesota, but we’re not seeing them lifted in Minnesota: the current stay-at-home guidelines were extended by Gov. Tim Walz. Similarly, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced some small changes to his state’s stay-at-home orders, but nothing dramatic.
But there are voices encouraging the return of baseball. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is open to the notion of baseball returning and played in empty ballparks. Similarly, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is open to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field hosting play—with no fans present. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is ready to open the ballpark doors open to fans attending baseball games—given they practice safe social distancing:
“If the trends are good, as you get into June and July I think there is a window to have some fans,” he told reporters at a media briefing.
“You’re not going to have everyone packed in [a ballpark], but in 90° weather in the state of Florida, if you’re out there and someone is 10 feet away from you and you want to watch a ball game you may be able to do that.”
DeSantis then noted every decision on allowing fans back into ballparks and other venues will be taken following the guidelines set out by health experts.
Speaking of health experts: On Tuesday Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a key member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, warned against soaring expectations of a 2020 MLB season, saying that we don’t yet have the testing capabilities to ensure player and front-office-personnel safety, per The New York Times:
A key variable, Dr. Fauci said in an interview on Tuesday, will be whether the country can gain broad access to testing that quickly yields results. He said that manufacturers had made strides in developing such tests, but not enough for major sports competitions to resume.
“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,” he said. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.’”…
“If we let our desire to prematurely get back to normal, we can only get ourselves right back in the same hole we were in a few weeks ago,” Dr. Fauci said.
He said that any resumption of play must happen gradually and with great care and added that the authorities had to be prepared to respond if the number of cases began to grow again.
We live in largely improvised times, and it’s natural for politicians to want to hold out hope that normalcy is just around the corner. It may be, but if there’s one lesson of the last six weeks—and don’t forget, it was six weeks ago that spring training and the beginning of the 2020 MLB season were scrapped—is that things can change quickly. MLB will surely continue to float scenarios where the 2020 MLB season takes place, and you can expect more as weeks go by.
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