MLB might return to action in Phoenix



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Major League Baseball (MLB) is reportedly mulling to stage all of its games in the Phoenix area in Arizona, US, as it is debating the pros and cons of beginning the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the United States continues to be ripped apart by the fatal respiratory disease.

Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed by MLB and the players’ association. No details are available.

Phoenix is the capital of the southwestern US State of Arizona and is famed for its year-round sun and warm temperatures. It anchors a sprawling, multicity metropolitan area known as the Valley of the Sun.

The MLB season was due to start on March 26 this year but it has been pushed back until mid-May at the earliest due to COVID-19. MLB teams and the league’s players’ association held a call recently to discuss potential plans.

Media reports stated that the plans include placing all 30 teams in Phoenix, Arizona and playing games in empty stadia. Though the details have not yet been finalized, a lot of hurdles still remain to be overcome.

With half of the league’s clubs holding spring training bases in Arizona, Phoenix seems to be a logical location for a potential season-starter.

Chase Field which sits in Phoenix and is the home arena of the American professional baseball team Arizona Diamondbacks could be used, while the State also boasts extra 10 spring training ballparks that could serve as host venues.

The MLB issued a statement recently to clarify that no decision has been reached on a Phoenix proposal, with the league clarifying that it is working out on a number of options.

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 league said.

The statement added, “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. 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.”

The league further asserted in its statement, “The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and 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 coronavirus.”

Media reports further said that the Arizona plan would see players, coaches and essential team personnel stay in isolation at hotels, only travelling to and from the venue. The return date could be scheduled for May if certain assurances can be reached, although a June opening day seems more likely.

Half of the MLB clubs hold spring training in Arizona, the other half in Florida.

Arizona’s advantage lies in the fact that it enjoys 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,” Boras observed.

“It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy. 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,” he added.

Baseball’s season had been set to start March 26 but spring training was halted on March 12 following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending restricting events of more than 50 people for eight weeks. MLB said it would not open until mid-May at the earliest.

“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. 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 much 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 signed on a pact on 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 agreed to make an 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, considering the travel that would come with it.

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.

Meanwhile, no decision has yet been reached on when the National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball league will return to action, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver saying it is too early to predict anything.

The NBA suspended its season indefinitely in March after a Utah Jazz player contracted COVID-19. The league still needs to hold its remaining regular-season games and end-of-season play-offs.

Utah Jazz is an American professional basketball team based in Salt Lake City in Utah, US.

Although Silver is still hopeful of finishing the season, he admitted that no decision has been reached on when it can return – “Essentially, what I’ve told my folks is that we just should accept that, at least for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. And I don’t think that necessarily means on May 1 we will be ready for action.”

The NBA is also examining the possibility of staging its entire postseason in Las Vegas. Media reports quoting league sources said Vegas is the only city the NBA is currently giving serious thought to with regards to staging a quarantined event in one location.

The NBA’s end-of-season play-offs had been due to begin on April 18 and run until June.

Silver tweeted, “When we initially shut down we were calling it a hiatus or a pause, there was a notion of 30 days because there wasn’t any of the widespread view at that point that our country would in essence be entirely shut down over the next several weeks. The fact is now I know less, in a way, than I did then.”
 

Coronavirus count

The United States is fighting a bitter battle with coronavirus as fatalities stand to date at 33,490 and coronavirus cases are 654,343.

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