NEW YORK – Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday by Major League Baseball and the players’ association.
The sides held a telephone call to talk about paths forward for a season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, people familiar with the discussion told The Associated Press. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no details were announced.
Ideas are still in the early stage, and the Arizona option would have many obstacles to overcome, the people said.
“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so," the commissioner's office said in a statement Tuesday. “While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”
Baseball officials intend to study which options may be viable.
“While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the players' association,” MLB said. "We are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”
Half of the MLB clubs hold spring training in Arizona, the other half in Florida.
Arizona’s advantage is 10 spring training ballparks plus the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field all within about 50 miles. Florida’s spring training ballparks are spread out by as much as 220 miles.
“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 Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “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."
“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.”
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.
Texas Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said MLB is examining different options and he didn’t want to speculate.
“But, obviously, we’d all love to find a way to play, provided we could do safely, and that would be the priority,” he said.
The players’ association would want to survey its members to determine whether they would support such a plan, one of the people said.
“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, if you will, to produce a product that is inspirational to our country.”
Chase Field, with artificial turf and a retractable roof, could be the site of daily tripleheaders, Boras said.
MLB and the union reached a deal March 26 to advance $170 million in salary to players for the first 60 days of the season. As part of the deal, players would get only prorated portions of their salaries if the regular season is cut from its usual 162 games and would receive no additional salary if the season is scrapped.
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.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Texas contributed to this report.