Coronavirus: MLB, MLBPA discuss starting 2020 season as soon as May with all games in Arizona, per reports

It’s not certain when the 2020 MLB season will get underway because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although it remains possible that no 2020 season will be played, the hope remains that some kind of abbreviated campaign will be possible once we’re past the peak of the virus in the U.S. and Canada. 

It’s a fluid situation, and as such MLB and the players’ union (MLBPA) are remaining fluid in their discussions. According to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, one idea that emerged in recent discussions is to play all games in Arizona — the Phoenix area in particular — at least for the start of the season. Blum writes: “Ideas are still in the early stage, and the Arizona option would have many obstacles to overcome,” the people familiar with the discussions said.

In addition to having a number of major league spring training facilities in the area, Phoenix also has Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. So there’s an abundance of usable facilities, all mostly within close proximity to each other. Several teams also have spring training in Florida, but the complexes are far more spread out than they are in Arizona. 

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports on several additional details. Most notably, sources tell Passan that the season could start as early as May — but with a June return date perhaps being more practical — and he confirms that all games would take place in the Phoenix area. More from Passan: 

Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institute of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.

According to Passan, use of an electronic strike zone may also be considered in order for the plate umpire to be able to maintain some semblance of “social distancing.” Also, players could be asked to sit apart from each other in the stands as opposed to being confined together in dugouts. Passan’s story has many more compelling details on the potential plan, so do give it a full read. 

Among states, Arizona at this writing has the 22nd most confirmed cases of COVID-19, which means it’s not presently a “hot spot.” That status could of course change, but if it remains on the lower side of the spectrum then this idea could become more viable. Whatever the case, MLB and the MLBPA must first agree to such a framework and then proceed to determine that it’s workable, all while having events and timelines dictated by the trends of the pandemic. Suffice it to say, much has to happen before this or any other plan can be put into action.

Although MLB and the MLBA, per their agreement, have a stated preference for playing games in front of fans and only after public health officials have approved such gatherings, those preconditions might not allow a season of any length to happen. That’s why both sides have also agreed that playing games at neutral sites in front of no fans is a possibility, and that would be required in order to see the “Arizona plan” through. 

Players and owners obviously have heavy financial incentives to play as much of a season as possible — even if it means no gate receipts — which explains the openness to unconventional arrangements. Playing every team’s games in Arizona, at least for the early part of the schedule, certainly qualifies as unconventional. 

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