While the list of priorities facing the country at the moment does not include Major League Baseball, much less any professional sport — unless you live in Florida, where the WWE is viewed as an essential business (thanks, Governor Desantis) — Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich (The Athletic, paid link) write baseball continues to explore a variety of ways to conduct the 2020 season. League officials, however, are not ready to commit to one idea before the timeline of the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic becomes clearer.
One such idea is the Arizona plan, where all 30 teams, and team staff, would relocate to the Phoenix area. All games would be played without fans in attendance. This particular plan would utilize Chase Field, home ballpark of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in the many nearby Spring Training complexes. MLB is reportedly considering getting this underway as early as late May.
While stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders would, presumably, still be in place, the plan is to work around this by sequestering players, team personnel, and umpires in local hotels. The league would also do its best to maintain social distancing during the games; for example, possibly utilizing an automated strike zone and having players in the stands as opposed to cramped together in dugouts.
Yet the Arizona plan is fraught with obstacles, as Rosenthal and Drellich noted.
Temperatures in Phoenix in the summer months routinely soar over 100 degrees, making for less-than-ideal playing conditions. The city’s location potentially would reduce the size of night-time television audiences. The potential inclusion of families in the sealed environment – an idea many players advocate – would dramatically increase the number of people quarantined and tested.
To implement the plan, baseball would need to reserve entire hotels, arrange for food service and ensure extensive testing for everyone under quarantine, all in advance. Such a commitment might turn out to be premature if a better alternative became available in 45 to 60 days. But the Arizona plan could morph into that better alternative as well.
Some of the 15 clubs that train in Florida, meanwhile, would prefer the league to explore playing in both that state and Arizona, sources said. Baseball is considering the two-state concept, but the training camps in Florida are more spread out than the complexes in Arizona, and some are in relatively remote locations, creating other challenges.
Television – which will be the sole outlet for fans to see games if they are prohibited from entering parks – is another issue the sport would need to address. If a quarantine was in effect, would broadcasts emanate from the usual on-site production trucks or off-site control rooms? Would the announcers be on location? Would robotic cameras replace individual operators? Whatever baseball decided, its local and national TV partners likely would need significant time to prepare.— Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich
Bob Nightengale (USA Today, link) reported that MLB has also discussed radical realignment for the 2020 season. According to Nightengale, who spoke with an MLB official on the condition of anonymity (because the proposal is one of several being discussed), the American and National Leagues would be scrapped — for the 2020 season only — and replaced by Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues in which the teams play during Spring Training. The 15 teams in either the Grapefruit or Cactus League would each call their Spring Training complexes home, playing games in empty parks in realigned divisions.
The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their Spring Training homes. Nightengale envisions three divisions in each league:
- North: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates.
- South: Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles.
- East: Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins.
- Northeast: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics.
- West: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels.
- Northwest: Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals.
The Cactus League provides more flexibility given all of the teams are within an hour’s drive of each other.
Also, Florida, with teams spread throughout the state, presents a bigger challenge if players, officials and support staff would needed to be quarantined, which has not been determined.— Bob Nightengale
The Grapefruit League/Cactus League plan holds several advantages, such as allowing teams to establish home bases in facilities they are already familiar with. In total, 26 ballparks would be available including three domed facilities: the Trop, Marlins Park, and Chase Field in Phoenix.
Nightengale goes on to say:
Financially, it could be a huge boon for the TV rights holders. You could have a captive TV audience the entire day. Games in Florida could begin at 11 a.m. ET and still have games in prime-time for East Coast teams and their fans. The time slots still would permit West Coast teams to play prime-time games in Arizona.
Baseball, even with the realignment, could still play 12 games apiece against their new divisional opponents and six games apiece against the other teams in the state. There would be at least one doubleheader a night when all teams are scheduled to play because of the odd number of teams in each state.
The DH would likely be universally implemented as well.
There could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams.— Bob Nightengale
This particular plan does come with drawbacks, however. While an empty ballpark would cap the number of people present for any given game, it might not effectively limit the number of people in one particular place…at least not as much as one would think. In addition to each team’s rosters, which would likely be expanded to at least 29 players, ball-clubs would still need to have coaching staffs and team personnel (including scouts and front-office staff) on hand in addition to umpires, medical and training personnel, camera crews, production crews, food preparation staff, and security staff for any given facility.
Temporary housing for that many players could be problematic as well. And, as Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors) writes, as with the all-Arizona plan, the Florida-Arizona plan carries questions about weather conditions — playing primarily in open-air stadiums in the dead of an Arizona or Florida summer is clearly sub-optimal — and prolonged separation of players and their families. The looming issue of how to proceed if (or more likely when) an active player tests positive for the virus remains perhaps the most notable obstacle to address.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the potential of baseball resuming play this summer in a podcast with Peter Hamby.
Fauci didn’t give a strong prediction of whether we’ll see MLB in 2020, saying the feasibility of holding sports is “really going to depend on what actually evolves over the next couple of months.”
Fauci envisioned a scenario where baseball is able to launch a season by the middle of the summer without fans in the stands.
If you could get on television, Major League Baseball, to start July 4… Well, I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game. Particularly me. I’m living in Washington. We have the World Champion Washington Nationals. You know, I want to see them play again.Dr. Anthony Fauci
At any rate, thinking outside the box could be the best course of action if the 2020 season is to be salvaged. These are just two of the dozens of scenarios that have been, or will be, discussed by the MLB and the MLBPA as they attempt to find a way to restore some normalcy given the strange circumstances the entire world has been thrust into.
St. Petersburg COVID-19 Resources
Andrew Harlan (ilovetheburg.com, link) listed some of the food resources offered up to the citizens of St. Pete. Those are listed below.
- A Food Truck Convoy launched to serve hundreds of families in need.
- The St. Pete Free Clinic created a mobile food pantry to provide for Pinellas County residents in need. Pacific Counter has done its part to provide relief for hospitality workers who are out of a job, and Gratzzi has served hundreds of hospitality workers.
- St. Pete Meals, a concept launched by Brian Zucker of St. Pete Rising and the EDGE Guide, has raised more than $42,000 and provided meals for countless healthcare providers in the city. One afternoon Zucker brought 160 meals from Greenstock to the Bay Pines VA Hospital. You can donate to the campaign by visiting St. Pete Meals’ website.
- Speaking of Greenstock, the restaurant, along with Boyd Construction, Il Ritorno, Hype Group alongside Taylor & Fulton Packing House, donated nearly 400 pounds of tomatoes to the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.
- Tropicana Field is lighting up to show its support. A recent post from the Rays shows the ‘Burg’s baseball stadium with a blue top to honor the first responders and healthcare providers working exhaustively on behalf of St. Pete residents.
- The Rays Baseball Foundation and Rowdies Soccer Fund also announced that they’re donating 1 million meals, and matching up to 1.5 million additional meals with Feeding Tampa Bay. You can learn more and donate here.
— 27 of the league’s 30 teams are participating in a study that could test around 10,000 people for coronavirus antibodies, writes Jeff Passan (ESPN, link). Stanford University, the University of Southern California and the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory are running the study.
This is the first study of national scope where we’re going to get a read on a large number of communities throughout the United States to understand how extensive the spread of the virus has been. Why MLB versus other employers? I’ve reached out to others, but MLB moved by far the fastest. They’ve been enormously cooperative and flexible. We’re trying to set up a scientific study that would normally take years to set up, and it’s going to be a matter of weeks.— Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University
Bhattacharya hopes to get the results by week’s end. At the moment it isn’t clear which teams are not participating in the study.