MINNEAPOLIS - The Coronavirus pandemic has the sports world shut down, but some news emerged Tuesday that should have Major League Baseball and Minnesota Twins fans paying attention.
MLB and its players association are working with national health officials on a plan that could have all teams in action by May, according to an ESPN report.
That plan would reportedly involve all 30 MLB teams traveling to Arizona, being sequestered in hotels and playing at Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as other Spring Training facilities and ballparks near the Phoenix area. Games would be played with no fans in the stands.
It’s the first serious sign that baseball could be returning after it was shut down in the middle of March. In the thick of Spring Training, facilities were closed and players were told to go home.
The Twins want to get back to playing baseball as much as every other MLB organization. They’re coming off the franchise’s first division title since 2010, and added free agent star Josh Donaldson in the off-season.
They want to play, so long as it doesn’t put anyone’s health at risk. The problem right now is nobody has that answer.
“It’s not exciting to not be able to state expectations or specifics, but we have to be prepared for literally anything and we are. When it does play out, I guarantee that none of the situations that we’re foreseeing are going to play out exactly the way we’re expecting them to,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said last month.
Baldelli may not realize how true those words from last month are. If baseball is to return next month, it will come with plenty of proposed changes. Among them are using an electronic strike zone so that home plate umpires can maintain distance from both the catcher and hitter. There wouldn’t be any mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach.
Players and coaches would not sit together in the dugout. Rather, they would sit in the stands at least six feet apart with no fans at the games. There would be regular use of on-field microphones by players, and there would be seven-inning doubleheaders.
Taylor Rogers, the Twins’ representative for the players union, said there has been an open line of communication between the union and MLB on the possibilities.
“Personally I just don’t see any situation where we can have 200 players and staff in a stadium and not have fans there. I do think people are open to it if that’s what we have to do to get the season in,” Rogers said last month. “Whatever thing we can put together to get the most games in, everybody is going to win on that account.”
Twins slugger Nelson Cruz didn’t want to entertain the idea of playing games without fans, but it might be the only option if MLB is to get the most out of its season.
“That’s not the goal, we don’t want to play with empty stadiums. We play for the fans, that’s who we play for so hopefully that’s not the case,” Cruz said last month.
The major hurdles are that the players would live in isolation away from their families, likely for at least a few months. Players would also have to get regular testing for Covid-19.
Rosters would have to be expanded, and pitching staffs re-organized with doubleheaders on the horizon. There’s a lot to consider, but MLB wants to have a season and fans are begging for action.
Stay tuned, it’s a fluid situation.
“The situation is going to challenge everybody in ways they’ve never seen before and it’s going to make you think about a lot of different things in alternative ways. We’re going to adapt to whatever comes our way,” Baldelli said.