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Baseball by May? MLB considering plan to relocate, isolate all teams in Phoenix, report says

Baseball by May? MLB considering plan to relocate, isolate all teams in Phoenix, report says

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Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt signs autographs before a September 2019 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix. (AP Photo)

The concerns are numerous and the plan’s complications multiple with each new consideration, yet Major League Baseball is discussing how to relocate the sport to Arizona, create a virtual “bubble” around 30 teams and personnel, and start the 2020 season in May, according to a report.

The owners and players are “increasingly focused” on an idea that would open the season as early as May and have all 30 teams playing at facilities in the Phoenix area and in front of empty stands, ESPN reported late Monday. The Associated Press detailed in its report that the idea of moving all 30 teams to Arizona to start the season was discussed Monday during a telephone conversation with Major League Baseball and the players' union. Other ideas were explored during the conversation.

On Tuesday morning, Major League Baseball insisted that many ideas are being discussed and that a "detailed plan" has not been formulated to relocate all 30 teams to one location.

"MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so," according to a statement sent to many baseball writers Tuesday morning. "While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

The fast-forward concept, ESPN’s report stated, has “support of high-ranking public health officials” because it would take some of the social distancing measures common in cities and transplant them on the ballfield.

How that would change the game is just the beginning of the questions.

ESPN’s report, as written by baseball writer Jeff Passan, said the plan “has a number of potential stumbling blocks.”

Two players, opponents brought to one ballpark from different hotels, standing at first base before a potential pickoff, for example.

When Major League Baseball canceled spring training due to the onrushing threat of the coronavirus and initially announced the delay of the regular season, this was the week identified as a possible start date. Within days, the commissioner said that wouldn’t be possible and extended the indefinite postponement of the regular season until mid-May. As recently as last week, teams were braced for a May without baseball and the possibility of speeding through a second spring training in June. Numerous other plans have been discussed so that Major League Baseball can respond quickly to what is really in control of when the game returns – the virus.

Baseball officials have discussed myriad possibilities – starting the season at the All-Star break, playing games in empty ballparks, playing games in empty ballparks at spring training sites, targeting Flag Day as a possible opener, and even losing the 2020 season entirely. The last option is so unpalatable that creative solutions must be explored.

The one being considered by officials and players, according to ESPN, would relocate all 30 clubs to the Phoenix area and have games at Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, and the spring training facilities scattered around the Cactus League. There are 10. Some other elements of this plan that have been discussed, according to the report:

• “Players, coaching staff and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation,” Passan writes.

• Teams would travel to the games and the hotel.

• No mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach (and presumably manager?).

• Seven-inning doubleheaders, which had been discussed all along as a possibility to reclaim games postponed during a shortened calendar.

• Players sitting in empty stands, at a six-foot distance, not crammed in a dugout.

• An electronic strike zone to allow the umpire to rule from a distance.

One of the first issues that Major League Baseball would have to confront – and fast for a May return – would be the testing of all players and personnel, and any other people permitted inside what ESPN referred to as a “bubble.” Since spring training ended, players and coaches and managers and trainers and front office officials and media have all scattered, most to their homes. To bring them all back together would require massive and penetrating testing before the person could be brought in proximity of this plan — testing for the coronavirus, of course, but also testing that would have to include the antibodies because of reports of asymptomatic carriers of the virus.

“The plan,” ESPN explains, “could include teams carrying significantly expanded rosters to account for the possibility of players testing positive despite the isolation.”

If agreed upon, it’s not clear how long baseball would be in this bubble.

While the report suggests that baseball could resume as early as May, it's important to note that a plan like this could also start in June or July, whenever government policies shift to allow larger groups to gather, or as testing for COVID-19 becomes more widespread. 

The questions seem exponential – from the big-picture concern of the message it sends for citizens to be told to “stay at home” at a time when baseball gets to work, to the gargantuan logistics of relocating entire teams, testing entire teams and choosing who is essential for a game to be played, to the small things like how a game that won’t allow a catcher to visit the mound will deal with a pickoff at first base.

Or how players can bus to a ballpark together, lodge in a hotel together, but not sit in a dugout together.

Or how players will feel about possibly being removed from their families for an extended period of time. 

Or ...

The questions go on and on, but even the discussion described by ESPN and all the other possibilities MLB has discussed reveal the one, defining answer:

Owners and players are eager to find some way, somehow, and somewhere to play because they cannot afford to lose the 2020 season.

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