Major League Baseball is eager to get back on the field after suspending spring training back in March over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. But with outbreaks all over the country, getting players back on the field could be quite complicated. The latest idea discussed between MLB and the players’ union would be to have all 30 teams play before empty stadiums in the Phoenix area, according to the Associated Press. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health have been supportive of such a plan that could involve games beginning as soon as late May, according to Jeff Passan at ESPN.
Arizona would be a preferred locale because it has several spring training facilities within a short drive, as opposed to Florida, where spring training sites are much more spread out. The weather is also suitable enough there wouldn’t be many rainouts that would complicate an already shortened schedule.
Al Yellon at Bleed Cubbie Blue explored the idea last week, finding there would be at least 13 venues where baseball could be played - Chase Field, a retractable roof, climate-controlled stadium that houses the Arizona Diamondbacks, could be the host of most of the games, including multiple games in a day. There are also ten other spring training ballparks in the area, including Surprise Stadium where the Royals play in spring training. You also have Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where Arizona State University plays baseball, and State Farm Stadium, which is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and would have to be reconfigured for baseball.
With no fans, baseball would want to earn some revenue by putting games on television. To air in prime time for the east coast, games would have to begin around 4 p.m. local time, and in the summer, the temperature during the day can be over 100 degrees in Phoenix. This wouldn’t be a problem for games in the climate-controlled Chase Field, but it could make for uncomfortable playing conditions for the other stadiums, plus difficult sight lines for hitters with late afternoon shadows. Still, at least it would get baseball games back on schedule.
The bigger problem would be how to effectively prevent some 900 baseball players, plus coaches, trainers, stadium staff, broadcasting crews, hotel workers, food preparation employees, and all the people needed to maintain a supply chain from getting and spreading the coronavirus. Baseball would need to effectively test anyone involved on a regular basis. Already the NBA is exploring some rapid testing procedures to allow them to begin resuming play. Blood tests that could test antibodies to determine who may have developed an immunity to the virus may come out as soon as this week.
But what would happen once someone tests positive for the virus? Would an entire team be quarantined? Plus their opponent? According to Passan, one positive test would not lead to an entire team being put out of action. Expanded rosters could allow teams to work around individual players being quarantined. It does not sound like minor league baseball would be included. Passan says the league is considering other ideas like an electronic strike zone to keep umpires from having close contact with players, seven-inning doubleheaders, no mound visits, and players mic’d up for television.
But if multiple players were to test positive for the virus, would the season go on pause once again? The NPB baseball league in Japan was planning to begin their already-delayed season on April 24, but have had to push it back again after three players tested positive for coronavirus. As of April 6, Arizona has 2,732 cases of coronavirus.
We all want to see baseball return as soon as possible, but the safety of players and personnel have to be strongly considered. If there is widespread testing to ensure the risk of spread is low, and no mass gatherings, a novel idea like this could at least give fans a chance to watch baseball while they are still in quarantine. It may be jarring to see games without fans, in empty spring training stadiums, rather than in front of full stands at Yankee Stadium. But we’ll take baseball any way we can get it at this point, so long as the players are safe.