MLB coronavirus plan: Games to be played as scheduled, media access limited

On Monday, Major League Baseball held a conference call with the 30 team owners to discuss how the league should proceed given the spread of coronavirus. Earlier in the day, Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball announced it would delay the start of the regular season, from March 20 until “mid-April,” due to the obvious health risk associated with large gatherings, per longtime baseball scribe Jim Allen. 

MLB will not follow NPB’s suit, at least not at this point, and instead intends to play out the spring training schedule before proceeding with the regular season as previously planned, per a league-issued statement. The most notable change the league is making right now concerns media access. MLB, along with the NBA, NHL and MLS, will roll out new practices and guidelines for media. Clubhouses will no longer be open, with players instead being made available to reporters in press conferences and other settings. 

Here’s part of the league’s statement:

“We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary.  While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.

“On a temporary basis, effective on Tuesday, only players and essential personnel may enter locker rooms and clubhouses at MLB facilities.  In a joint step with other professional sports leagues, we are requiring that Clubs relocate media availabilities to another area in their facilities.  Clubs will be expected to provide best efforts in facilitating usual media coverage and access to uniformed personnel and team officials in these alternate settings.  Access for and coverage by the BBWAA and all media are vital to our game and we hope to resume normal operations as quickly as possible.  We appreciate the media’s cooperation with this temporary step, which is being taken out of an abundance of caution for the best interests of all.” 

ESPN’s Jeff Passan notes that MLB will continue to monitor the situation with each local market, and might pivot to a contingency plan if necessary. That could include, among other possibilities, moving games to non-local venues. One presumes that MLB would also consider playing games where only essential personnel were permitted into the stadium, but that’s speculation based only on how other leagues across the globe are responding to coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported the league’s preparation for coronavirus might cause MLB to further delay the release of its investigation into the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are alleged to have improperly used technology to steal signs during their World Series-winning 2018 season, and the league had been trying to wrap up its investigation ahead of Opening Day.

At present, and barring changes in the coming two-plus weeks, MLB’s regular season is set to begin on March 26. 

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