Major League Baseball has discussed a plan on Monday that would have the season start as early as May, with all games played in the state of Arizona at empty ballparks amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to multiple reports.
The plan — still in its early stages — reportedly has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe it can safely operate during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s embraced as the most likely option so far by the MLB and Players Association leadership, who started discussing it in multiple phone calls on Monday, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Although it reportedly still has many obstacles to overcome.
“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said high-profile baseball agent, Scott Boras. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.”
In the plan, all 30 teams would play games at ballparks in the Phoenix area with no fans in attendance — including Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and other fields, ESPN reported. Compared to other states like Florida, the ballparks in Arizona are in an area of just 50 miles. To limit the spread of the virus, players, staff, and personnel would be isolated at local hotels and travel only to and from the stadium.
“It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy,” Boras added. “You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s really good for a culture to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus.”
Other obstacles include the separation of players and families for an extended period of time — possibly over four months.
“You’re going to be largely separated from your families and you’re going to have to function in a very contained way. It’s not a normal life, this idea,” Boras said. “You’re going to have an identified group of people. You’re going to have a constantly tested group of people. And you’re going to have a very limited access of those people to the outside world so that you can assure a very uncontaminated league.”
The absence of fans would also mean a lack of ticket sales, which is the main source of revenue for the league, although money would still be generated from additional television broadcasts, according to ESPN.
A deal was already reached back in March to advance $170 million in salary to players over the first 60 days of the season. Although players would only get a portion of the salary if the regular season is cut and no additional salary if officials decide to end it.
The league also might carry additional roster spots in case a player or team member tests positive. Meanwhile, a source told the outlet that a positive test wouldn’t necessarily force an entire team to be quarantined or the season to be shut down.
Baseball’s season had been set to start March 26 but spring training was halted on March 12. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended restricting events of more than 50 people for eight weeks, MLB said it would not open until mid-May at the earliest.
The plan would be tested during a two or three-week training camp, with the season beginning after that, according to ESPN.
Both sides have agreed to attempt to play as full a season as is possible, and this plan would enable the season to start while waiting for health and government officials to determine whether it is safe to resume play in regular-season ballparks, with the travel that would entail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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