Coronavirus update: MLB reportedly decides to suspend operations; spring training still being played Thursday

Major League Baseball is expected to suspend operations following a conference call Thursday about how to respond to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Passan notes that there’s pressure to follow suit as other leagues cancel events and suspend their seasons, and an official decision from MLB regarding spring training was expected “soon.” Thursday afternoon, spring training games in Florida started as scheduled.

The NBA became the first American professional sports league to take major action related to coronavirus when it suspended its season Wednesday night shortly after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. MLS announced a similar suspension of its season on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, MLB was moving toward formulating alternative plans for regular season games in the event that the ongoing outbreak makes it impractical to proceed with the schedule as planned. MLB is looking into different sites for games once the 2020 regular season gets underway in late March, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal reports. Diamond writes: 

This could take on several forms, these people said. Teams could play at other MLB stadiums in cities less affected by the crisis, when its primary tenant is on the road. They could stay at their spring training facilities in Arizona or Florida and stage regular-season contests there, since those places are experienced at hosting major-league games. Baseball has even received outreach from outside parties with facilities large enough to host MLB teams if they can’t play at home.

In the event that large public gatherings are banned by local authorities, Diamond notes that MLB would proceed with the schedule in normal fashion only if they unable to make these alternative arrangements. Proceeding as normal under those circumstances would mean playing games in front of empty seats, which in addition to the awkward optics would also eliminate any gate revenues for teams. Importantly, Diamond also reports that MLB is not presently considering canceling regular season games. 

In the case of the Mariners, whose hometown of Seattle has been one of the U.S. hot spots for coronavirus, Washington governor Jay Inslee on Wednesday announced a ban on public gatherings of more than 250 people in the Seattle area. Shortly thereafter, the Mariners released the following statement: 

Following Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement this morning that he is banning large group events through March, the Seattle Mariners are working with the Major League Baseball Office of the Commissioner on alternative plans for our games that were scheduled for the end of March at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.

While we hope to be back to playing baseball in Seattle as soon as possible, the health and safety of our community is the most important consideration.

We will provide more information about our plans for the games as it becomes available.

Season Ticket Members, Suite Holders and Group Buyers will automatically receive a credit for tickets to un-played games. The credit will be applied by March 19 and may be used to purchase tickets for any other 2020 regular season home game.

Single-game ticket holders who purchased tickets directly through the Seattle Mariners will be automatically refunded to the credit card, debit card, gift card or other method of payment used to make your purchase. Additional details will be communicated directly to purchasers via email by March 14.

The club has looked into playing regular season games at its spring training facilities in Arizona, Evan Drellich of The Athletic reports. 

As well, the city and county of San Francisco have banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people. In response the Giants issued the following statement: 

The health and safety of our community is of the utmost importance to us. We have been in close coordination with Major League Baseball and our local health and government agencies to monitor and plan for any potential impacts of COVID-19. In light of the City and County San Francisco’s announcement today to prohibit public gatherings of 1,000 people for the next two weeks, we will not play our upcoming March 24th exhibition game against the Oakland A’s at Oracle Park in San Francisco. We have no other large public gatherings scheduled at Oracle Park during this time period. We are in the process of working with Major League Baseball and the A’s to finalize alternative arrangements. We will make that information available as soon as possible.

The MLB Players Association also released a statement Wednesday, saying the group is working with MLB to “develop contingency plans.”

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illnesses as minor as a cold, or as serious as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization. The virus can cause symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But while some patients only show mild symptoms and recover, others have developed life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia, CBS News reports. 

CBS News has the latest updates about the virus, which has affected various sports globally and in the United States and has at present caused more than 4,000 fatalities worldwide. Here at CBS Sports we have a running updates on how sports leagues are responding to coronavirus. 

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