According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, executives from across Major League Baseball will participate in a Friday conference call to determine whether and how to proceed with the rest of spring training and the start of the regular season. The league has been steadfast in its commitment to starting the season on time, but could do so without fans in attendance if Opening Day isn’t pushed back. The latter option is a very distinct possibility in light of the NBA’s decision to suspend its season indefinitely following the revelation that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus.
Gobert rose to new heights of infamy Wednesday night when a clip of him touching every microphone and recorder on the press conference table earlier in the week made the rounds on social media. He was mocking the league’s precautionary response to the pandemic by requiring that media members maintain a distance of 6 feet, something he must have thought was hilarious at the time. Not so funny in light of current developments.
NBA player, Rudy Gobert, finished his press conference a couple days ago by stopping to touch every microphone and tape recorder.
He just tested positive for coronavirus.
Entire NBA season halted. pic.twitter.com/bLLm5XswPO
— The Hoarse Whisperer (@HoarseWisperer) March 12, 2020
Though he was later diagnosed with the standard flu, images of Nebraska basketball coach Fred Hoiberg struggling to maintain his composure during his team’s Big Ten tournament loss to Indiana likewise made news. Thankfully, this ended up being more about what could have been rather that what was, but the decision to be on the sideline in the first place seems ill advised in light of the current situation.
Jesus, Fred Hoiberg looks awful. This is scary. pic.twitter.com/mhyzDEaW7W
— Robin Washut (@RobinWashut) March 12, 2020
Ohio governor Mike DeWine has called on sporting events in his state to ban spectators, which would include the NCAA tournament’s First Four, among other gatherings. NCAA president Mark Emmert took things a step further, announcing Wednesday that all upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, would have only essential staff and limited family in attendance. The NHL released a statement saying it would determine future plans on Thursday.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently announced a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people in nearly the entire Seattle metro area, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus. That means relocating the Mariners’ opening series with the Rangers, perhaps to the Phoenix area, but this isn’t all going away by the end of the month and it’s not just the Pacific Northwest being affected.
As Passan reported early Thursday morning, the California Department of Public Health has recommended that “large gatherings that include 250 people or more should be postponed or canceled.” That would mean moving or rescheduling opening series for the Dodgers, Athletics, and Padres, some or all of which could take place at their spring training facilities around Phoenix. Except the Padres and Mariners share a facility, so that’s a problem. Then you factor in the whole Grapefruit League.
MLB pushing back and possibly shortening the season isn’t going to sit well with fans, nor would playing in empty stadiums. Those things probably aren’t favorable to ownership, either, if we’re being honest. But at the end of the day, it’s really not about whether you and I would rather be able to attend games and watch them on TV.
“It wouldn’t be the same at all,” Kris Bryant, the team’s union rep, told members of the media about playing in empty ballparks. “We feed off the fans, we feed off their energy. And being at home, Wrigley Field is such a home-field advantage for us. It certainly would be weird, but if that’s where we’re going, then obviously we’re all going to have to come together on this and figure out the right solution.”
“Like I keep saying, it’s people’s safety and health that is the most important thing. If we can find a way to not put people in jeopardy, that’s what I’m all for. People’s lives mean more to me than baseball.”
Bryant on thought of playing in front of no fans: pic.twitter.com/ABlU1M9vpA
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 11, 2020
Per the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales, Bryant also cited the older members of his family as inspiration for his perspective on the matter. While it’s absolutely true that the coronavirus isn’t likely to be dangerous to a vast majority of the population, it can be deadly to older individuals and those with compromised immune systems. In other words, these extreme precautions aren’t about you, Chad, they’re about keeping you from becoming a carrier and spreading the virus to those who aren’t as well equipped to battle it.
With no vaccines, limited testing, and what is probably still an alarmingly high number of people who believe this is all just hoax conjured by the fake liberal news, it’s entirely necessary to be overt in measures to curb illness. Decisive actions aren’t always fun and they might even be excessive, but it’s a helluva lot better to have to miss out on a few baseball games than to face the prospect of an even more rapidly rising death toll.
As of right now, there are no plans to limit spring training attendance or to postpone the start of the season in any way. This is an extremely fluid situation, though, and plans can change by the hour moving forward. MLB has the luxury of time and can approach this a little more deliberately than other leagues, but it’s looking more and more as though at least the first week or two of the season is in jeopardy.
Update: Passan tweeted Thursday afternoon that baseball execs feel MLB will suspend spring training as soon as today.
There is a feeling of inevitability among executives that Major League Baseball will be suspending spring training as soon as today, sources tell ESPN.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 12, 2020