Exactly one month ago Monday, Major League Baseball shut down spring training indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Major League Baseball announced today that Spring Training camps will be suspended, effective immediately,” MLB said in part in the official release sent out March 13. “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.”
One month later, it’s no clearer when — or if — spring training can resume, let alone whether a 2020 regular season of any kind can be played.
And while two possible paths to that end discussed behind the scenes that have leaked out the last two weeks haven’t exactly garnered widespread praise — the Arizona baseball-in-a-bubble scenario in particular has been universally panned — those in the game are encouraged that discussions are taking place.
“There’s ideas out there and people are thinking. That’s always good. It’s better than nothing,” one National League manager said by phone Monday. “You’re never going to please everybody. That’s just a fact of life. I do like that they’re trying and looking for ideas to get the game going.”
What quickly was dubbed “The Arizona Plan” included all 30 teams being essentially quarantined for four months and playing some form of a season in empty stadiums spread out across the Phoenix area (it took less than 12 hours for MLB to publicly distance itself from the report).
The plan presented all sorts of issues — logistical and otherwise — not the least of which was the feasibility of successfully sequestering the approximately 1,500 people, which counts players, coaches, assorted staff, etc., who would be necessary and keeping them healthy.
More than a few players, as well as plenty of others who would be in the bubble, quickly expressed reservations about being completely cut off from their families for that amount of time.
The second plan that has leaked publicly “would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to USA Today, which broke the story late last week.
The USA Today story added: “The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.” The Yankees, for example, would be in a division with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Tigers and Pirates, all teams roughly 30 to 90 minutes from each other (depending on the matchup).
“There’s a better chance for that one because you’re splitting up the teams,” one longtime American League talent evaluator said. “You heard that one and said, ‘OK, there’s a chance for that to work.’ But at the end of the day, we have to wait to see how far this virus goes.”
As for the most commonly asked question by baseball fans — when might the regular season start? — the most optimistic scenario painted by a combination of MLB and MLBPA insiders polled in recent days is a return by July.
“At the beginning [March 13], I was thinking May. Now I’m thinking maybe sometime in July. That would be the earliest, that’s the best scenario, I think, July,” the manager said. “The longer this goes, the longer you need to prepare people [in spring training]. I think July’s the best-case scenario, but who knows?”
Which, inside and outside of sports during this crisis, just might be the most asked question of all.
Yankees and Mets games scheduled to this point in the season that have been postponed
Blue Jays 3