Major League Baseball, like many sports leagues around the world, is currently on indefinite hiatus because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) threat. Given the current conditions and where we are on the calendar, it is likely Opening Day will be pushed back into June, July or later.
MLB and the MLBPA are considering multiple plans to start the 2020 season, including a plan that involves dropping teams into one of three hubs (Arizona, Florida, Texas), as our R.J. Anderson reported. Some plans are more feasible than others, of course, but MLB and everyone involved wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t consider all possibilities.
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, MLB’s “preferred plan” is to play as many games in each team’s home big-league ballpark as possible. Other plans, including the hub plan and holding the season entirely in Arizona, are reportedly becoming less and less likely. From Topkin:
The preferred plan would be to start play in late June or early July with as many teams as possible playing in home parks, such as the Rays at Tropicana Field, while competing in their regular divisions with an abbreviated schedule of at least 80 games.
The Arizona scenario, in which all players and staff would essentially live and play in a colonized bubble, is much less likely. So, too, is having all teams play at spring sites and compete in Cactus and Grapefruit leagues. Other reports about having teams assigned to “hub” sites in Arizona, Texas and Florida, or realigned into three geographical divisions, are being downplayed or dismissed.
“I’m more optimistic today than I was 10 days ago,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told Topkin. “It sounds like there’s enough thought from so many different corners — players, owners, league officials — that the industry as a whole is really trying to put their heads together to make something come together for some sort of a season.”
The benefits to playing games in home ballparks are obvious. The players and staff would get to live at home, first and foremost, plus television broadcasts would be made easier, and perhaps fans could eventually be allowed in as well. I suppose it’s possible MLB could begin the season with some teams at their home park and others at neutral sites as conditions allow.
MLB and the MLBPA want to pick up the 2020 schedule at whichever point the season begins, ideally. They would add extra games through doubleheaders, replacing off-days, eliminating the All-Star break, and tacking regular season games on to the end of the season in October. Picking up the schedule would be much easier with each team (or most teams) playing at home.
No matter when and where the 2020 season begins, there are several issues MLB must address first, including having contingency plans.
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