Spring training ballparks and camps could be pressed into service for regular season games under quarantine conditions as MLB grapples with the challenge of staging the 2020 season under pandemic conditions.
When spring training was shut down March 11, so was all of baseball. With the 2020 regular season peril, MLB has been exploring how to launch the season — and recoup some revenue — in the wake of social distancing and the coronavirus. One early plan had part of the season played sans fans — a strategy also explored by the NBA, NHL and MLS — but last week saw the emergence of two plans. An initial plan had all 30 teams congregating in Arizona, where they’d play games at the 10 spring training camps and Chase Field, and potentially at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and GCU Ballpark under tight conditions: players quarantined in local hotels, no fans and a minimal staff present, and plenty of testing. That plan was later expanded to include spring facilities in both Florida and Arizona.
With warnings from public officials like California Gov. Gavin Newsom that sports venues are unlikely to reopen before the fall, the new plan from MLB does anticipate playing the full season in empty spring-training ballparks. Players would essentially be in quarantine, with a season running through November and a World Series played in domed ballparks in Arizona, Miami or Tampa Bay.
The schedule, which would be based on three divisions each in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, would feature 12 games against divisional rivals and six against other league teams. Doubleheaders would still be on the agenda, though likely seven-inning affairs. Rosters would be expanded, and a DH would be used across the sport.
Again, this is still a work in progress, and you won’t see anything actually implemented until testing becomes more widespread and public-health officials give the go-ahead. While late May has been discussed (i.e., Memorial Day), the more likely start date for a three-week training camp would be at some point in June. And at no point is it is anticipated fans will be allowed into the ballparks to watch the action — but, like everything else happening now, plans can change.