While the New York region has been considered the epicenter of coronavirus, the greater Phoenix area of Arizona could soon become the epicenter of something a little bit easier to stomach: baseball!
According to reports obtained by ESPN's Jeff Passan, Major League Baseball and the Players Union have discussed a plan that would potentially allow the baseball season to start as early as May, though June could be more realistic. The plan, which has received the support of high-ranking federal officials, would place all 30 teams in the greater Phoenix area and utilize Chase Field and the number of other fields and stadiums in the area which include 10 Spring Training facilities used in the Cactus League.
No fans would be in attendance, members of the 30 organizations would be relatively isolated, living in nearby hotels and limiting travel, and teams would be expanded so as to allow for possible cases of coronavirus that would require roster shifts while that player recovered. Passan states that officials view baseball players as low-risk candidates, and that the coaches and older staff members would instead be the areas of concern.
Other measurements that would be taken to ensure safety and social distancing would be an absence of mound visits, an electronic strike zone and players/coaches sitting in empty stands at a proper distance as opposed to using a dugout. The season, while still aiming to be as close to 162 games as possible, would be comprised of seven-inning double headers in order to expedite the calendar days taken up by the schedule.
Obviously, such a plan requires a ton of heavy lifting and isn't without potential problems. Paramount among these issues for the league would be access to widespread testing, a key component that the league couldn't go without if it truly wanted to adhere to the strict policies that would make this idea work.
Financially, a major roadblock would be the lack of fans, as Passan states that "the league would forgo the gate receipts that account for the largest proportion of its annual revenues that exceed $10 billion." This money goes a long way in paying the players, and while the salaries of the players is another aspect of this deal that the union views as an overwhelming positive, it's an aspect of an early return that the league will have to consider heavily.
Additionally, Passan states that the buy-in of players is an enormous factor, as sources consider the players "skeptical of separating from their families for an indefinite amount of time -- perhaps as long as 4½ months" depending on how long it takes for the coronavirus pandemic to dwindle.
While there's no doubt it's a difficult plan to completely envision right now, it's a plan that has given federal officials the most hope and optimism that a sports season could return, according to Passan, so long as all the safety measures are strictly followed. A return to action in baseball would provide much more than just relief for the players, as the end of a sports hiatus has largely been pitched as a way to escape reality and provide some solace in these trying times.
MLB officially released a statement regarding the potential May/June return for baseball, stating that while the option was brought up as a possibility, there is no "detailed plan" in place to put anything into motion.
The statement doesn't add or reveal much to the potential plan, but may be more of a way to temper fans' expectations and hunger for a return to action if nothing ends up coming to fruition.