PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Coronavirus concerns hit new heights Thursday as Major League Baseball suspended spring training indefinitely and delayed the start of the season by at least two weeks.
MLB made that announcement while six games — including the Yankees’ visit to the Nationals in West Palm Beach — were being played. Eight other exhibition games were canceled. The Mets had an off day.
Opening Day, initially set for March 26, won’t be until April 9 at the earliest.
“MLB and the Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule,” MLB said in a statement. “MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.
“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans. MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.”
Spring training games were canceled as of 4 p.m. Thursday, and World Baseball Classic qualifier games in Arizona were postponed indefinitely. Minor League Baseball also indefinitely postponed the start of its season, which had been scheduled for April 9.
MLB said it will offer guidance to teams regarding day-to-day operations and workouts “in the coming days.” Teams are expected to remain at their Florida and Arizona camp sites, leaving them in spring training purgatory as they await word on when the season will start.
The Mets’ workouts will be closed to fans, who won’t be allowed inside the Clover Park complex until further notice, the team announced Thursday. Tickets for what had been remaining Grapefruit League games will be refunded in full when fans visit or call the St. Lucie Mets box office.
“This is a unique situation that’s bigger than baseball,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters in West Palm Beach. “You want to be doing your part on behalf of the world. We’ll be cooperative and try to play our part the best we can.”
Baseball’s hiatus came after similar announcements from the NBA, NHL and MLS and as college basketball programs started pulling out of conference tournaments before the NCAA Tournament was canceled, with fears of COVID-19 sending the sports world — and parts of the rest of the world — into chaos.
Before MLB’s suspension was official — but as it became inevitable — Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton called it “the proper measure we need to take now, given the situation the country’s in and the world’s in.” On his way out of Steinbrenner Field, he said he wants to continue working out in Tampa and noted, “We definitely have to keep moving.”
Stanton added, “We don’t know if this is something where everything could start up again [quickly] or if it’s going to be a couple-week process when that time comes, so we’re definitely a sport that needs those weeks to [get ready for] the season. It’s important to know that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports at the moment. Once we’re able to hopefully get a hold on some things and get some questions answered, we can figure out when things can continue.”
Mets first baseman Pete Alonso posted a statement to his social media accounts, thanking “everyone in the medical world” for their work fighting COVID-19 and saying it is “our duty to protect people who are at high risk.”
“First and foremost, I want to say I’m going to miss baseball,” Alonso wrote. “God willing, it will only be a short hiatus from the best game in the world. It’s a strange circumstance in a strange world. I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. For the people who are affected by this virus, I wish them a speedy recovery. The best things in life [baseball season] are worth waiting for.”
MLB has not had a mass postponement of openers since 1995, when the season was shortened from 162 games to 144 after a 7 1⁄2-month strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series. Opening Day was pushed back from April 2 to April 26.
Player salaries were reduced by 11.1% in 1995 because the games were lost because of a strike.
If regular-season games are lost this year, MLB could attempt to reduce salaries by citing paragraph 11 of the Uniform Player’s Contract, which covers national emergencies.
“This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action, now or hereafter in effect respecting military, naval, air or other governmental service, which may directly or indirectly affect the player, club or the league,” it says.
The provision also states the agreement is “subject also to the right of the commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”
With Erik Boland in Tampa and The Associated Press