by Mike Axisa
Baseball leagues in Taiwan and South Korea have opened in recent weeks but Major League Baseball is no closer to returning. MLB remains shut down because the COVID-19 pandemic is still prevalent across the country, and there are safety concerns abound.
Recent reports indicate MLB is hoping to begin spring training in mid-June and the regular season in early July, which would allow 100 games or so in a season. At least one team, the Cleveland Indians, has given their players a July 1 target date for a return, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal notes no plans have been finalized for baseball’s return.
Here are more details:
According to sources, officials from at least one team, the Indians, gave their players a “mark in the sand” Tuesday for Opening Day — July 1, the same date former major leaguer Trevor Plouffe had mentioned in a tweet Monday.
Indians officials, on a Zoom call that included about 70 members of the organization, estimated the season would begin after a three-week ramp-up, putting the start of Spring Training 2.0 around June 10, another date Plouffe specified. But the officials made it clear the dates were mere targets, fully expected to change. They simply wanted players to be prepared if the league meets all of the logistical challenges necessary to play.
Plouffe’s tweet said matter of factly that spring training will resume June 10 and Opening Day will be July 1, though that was quickly shot down. There does appear to be some kernel of truth to it, however. Those appear to be target dates for MLB’s return rather than set in stone return dates.
MLB hopes to play as many games as possible in each team’s home city this year. Plans that drop multiple (or all) teams into hubs in Arizona, Florida, and/or Texas are seen as less feasible now because they would be logistical nightmares. With each team in their home city, players and personnel could live at home and more easily isolate.
Of course, MLB won’t be playing games anywhere until COVID-19 is sufficiently contained, whenever that is. The possibility exists that the schedule will have to be modified on the fly should outbreaks occur in certain parts of the country. MLB would also need easy access to a large number of tests without disrupting care for the public at large.
“If everyone is expecting baseball to look like and feel like and be the way it’s been over the past 10 years, it’s going to be really hard to get through the season,” an executive told Rosenthal. “If teams and players are willing to be flexible and adaptive, that gives us the best chance to get through … I would guess there are things that aren’t going to go the way we planned. Our ability to adapt is going to be really important.”
Another thing MLB must consider: personnel with autoimmune disorders or other health issues that put them at greater risk of serious complications from COVID-19. We all view baseball players as these big, strong, healthy young men, and by and large they are, but the sheer numbers suggest there are people in the baseball bubble who would be at heightened risk should the season start. Braves outfielder Adam Duvall is a Type 1 diabetic, for example.
For now, MLB and the MLBPA will consult with health officials and continue to mull over various scenarios to play the 2020 season. At least one team, the Indians, has told its players to prepare for July 1, just in case. This is all subject to change though, even after a plan is announced to begin the season.