If you are a professional sports team or league, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants you to know: His state is open for business.
DeSantis said Wednesday that teams from all corners of the country are welcome in the Sunshine State if their own cities and states don’t want them during the coronavirus pandemic — an option that MLB is considering as it tries to prepare for a 2020 season.
“That may not be the case in every other state in this country, as we’ve seen,” DeSantis said during a news conference. “What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida. Because we think it’s important and we know that it can be done safely.”
As MLB negotiates parameters for a shortened season with the players’ union, the preference is for teams to play at their home ballparks. That would offer numerous benefits: nicer facilities, better replay and other technology, fewer weather issues and an ability for players to live at home and be with their families.
But because of the unpredictability of the public health situation in each region, baseball has backups. A team can use its spring training facility or have “home” games at a neutral site if it can’t play in its city.
Thus, DeSantis’ declaration is relevant in a baseball context, as was Arizona’s announcement Tuesday that pro sports can resume operations Saturday. Florida is the preseason home to 15 teams, with Arizona hosting the other 15.
Those states’ stances stand in stark contrast with those from California, where Los Angeles County expects stay-at-home orders to remain for months and Gov. Gavin Newsom long has been skeptical about restarting sports.
DeSantis' highlighting of sports Wednesday did not come with a new law or executive order. Last month, he deemed pro sports an essential service — as long as no fans are present, which would be the case for at least the start of an MLB season.
Some Yankees already have been working out at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. That includes the rehabbing Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino as well as DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Wade and J.A. Happ. WWE (Orlando) and UFC (Jacksonville) have staged events in Florida recently.
The coronavirus outbreak seemingly has not been as bad in Florida, which reported 479 new cases and 48 new deaths Wednesday. That brought its totals to 42,402 cases and 1,827 deaths. (For comparison’s sake, New York, the United States’ pandemic epicenter, has reported 338,000 cases and 21,845 deaths.)
More than half of Florida’s cases and deaths have been in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties in the southeastern corner of the state, away from where most baseball teams are based. The Marlins play in Miami-Dade, and four teams have spring training facilities in Palm Beach.
“Our people are starved to have some [sports] back in their lives,” DeSantis said. "I think we can certainly do it in a way that’s safe.”
DeSantis said a couple of sports leagues have considered Florida as a centralized location to continue their seasons. The NBA and MLS reportedly have looked at Walt Disney World’s basketball and soccer facilities in and near Orlando for that bubble scenario.
For baseball, it is not a Florida-or-bust choice. MLB could mix and match. For example, it could use Citi Field and Yankee Stadium in New York, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been vocal about wanting baseball to happen, but have other teams relocate to their spring training bases for as long as necessary, if necessary.
As MLB and the union continue talks this week — with health and money the biggest concerns to assuage — they can do so knowing one of their backup plans, Florida, wants them.
With Erik Boland