It’s been nearly a month since the sports world was shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak and fans and players alike are getting restless. However, Major League Baseball is reportedly looking to get things rolling, eyeing a May return that would see all 30 MLB teams gathering in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area to begin the 2020 season with zero fans in attendance.
It’s certainly optimistic, given that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise. While a June return seems more feasible and demonstrates a little more caution, the discussion involving Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association, and federal public health officials is heating up.
Here’s what this scenario could look like.
All 30 MLB teams would play and stay in the greater Phoenix area
Anonymous sources told the Associated Press that the discussions held on Monday included the plan to put all 30 MLB teams in the greater Phoenix area, possibly as early as May.
What makes Arizona so attractive is that there are 10 spring training facilities, not to mention the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, all within approximately 50 miles of one another. The problem with Florida, where half of MLB teams set up shop each spring, is that the ballparks are spread out by as much as 220 miles, which certainly isn’t ideal for what the new situation calls for.
Players, coaches, and other essential team personnel would essentially be sequestered at local hotels and would only be allowed to travel to and from the ballpark each day. Naturally, the MLB Players Association would have to agree to all of this as they could possibly be away from their families for up to four to five months. But MLB is hoping that the chance to start getting paychecks, along with the fact that there would simply be baseball again, will be enough to get the backing of the MLBPA.
Naturally, MLB is hoping to get as close to 162 games as possible to maximize television revenue and the possibility of seven-inning doubleheaders has been discussed.
The plan has the backing of federal health officials as it pertains to COVID-19
While it’s easy for any sports organization to talk about a potential return, getting the backing of federal health officials is vital. However, the CDC and the National Health Institute have been a part of these discussions and have offered their support, as long as protocols are put in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved. While MLB players aren’t looked at as high-risk due to their age and health, there are still older coaches and managers to worry about as well as the umpires that would be needed for these games.
One of the biggest concerns would be the number of coronavirus tests available with a fast turnaround time. MLB certainly doesn’t want to be responsible for diminishing access to the general public but all of these concerns are apparently being addressed as these discussions progress.
If someone does end up testing positive for COVID-19, officials reportedly believe that putting a team in quarantine or shutting down the season might not be necessary, which might not go over too well with a lot of people, including some players.
Some crazy ideas are being thrown around to maintain social distancing
Naturally, social distancing has been a part of these discussions and while there would be zero fans in attendance, there’s still the prospect of putting 30 to 40 people in a confined dugout every day. However, there are some interesting ideas being thrown around to limit social interaction.
There have been discussions on implementing the electronic strike zone that’s been tested in the minor leagues to keep umpires away from the catcher and batter. There might end up being zero trips to the mound by the catcher, pitching coach, or the manager. Players could end up sitting in the stands six feet apart as opposed to the dugout.
This is a wild plan but these are wild times. While the plan certainly has flaws and will receive plenty of backlash, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are looking for any way to make the 2020 season happen. MLB superagent Scott Boras, who recently came out with his own crazy idea on how to make the season work, says that, despite the obvious challenges, the return of baseball will give the U.S. hope during these trying times.
“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America. I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.
“It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy. You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s really good for a culture to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus.
“You’re going to be largely separated from your families and you’re going to have to function in a very contained way. It’s not a normal life, this idea. You’re going to have an identified group of people. You’re going to have a constantly tested group of people. And you’re going to have a very limited access of those people to the outside world so that you can assure a very uncontaminated league, if you will, to produce a product that is inspirational to our country.”MLB agent Scott Boras on the return of baseball
As we’ve all been doing for a while now, we sit and wait to see what happens next.