The plan, sources said, would dictate all 30 teams play games at stadiums with no fans in the greater Phoenix area, including the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and perhaps other nearby fields. Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation, and travel only to the stadium and back, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.
While the plan has many questions that would need to be answered, as would require the widespread availability of fast and accurate Covid-19 testing so players and staff could be checked regularly, the plan seems to incorporate working with the union to make this happen.
Players would need to be separated and isolated from their families, and the league and union began talks on Monday according to Passan. The report also includes a list of things that have already been discussed by both sides, which would make baseball look nothing like what we’ve seen before:
• Implementing an electronic strike zone to allow the plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter
• No mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach
• Seven-inning doubleheaders, which, with an earlier-than-expected start date, could allow baseball to come closer to a full 162-game season
• Regular use of on-field microphones by players, as an added bonus for TV viewers
• Sitting in the empty stands 6 feet apart — the recommended social-distancing space — instead of in a dugout
We’ve already had baseball with barely any fans before, but no one being able to buy a ticket would be quite odd. It would also hopefully give Americans across the country some much-needed sports to enjoy while quarantining themselves at home across the nation.
Will this happen? It’s probably too soon to tell. But the Korean Baseball Organization is on track to play games as early as April, and MLB would likely be able to learn plenty from the other league about the challenges ahead.
Whether this happens it’s too soon to say, but at least there’s no some hope for sports returning to our television sets (and our wagering accounts) in the not-so-distant future. As mentioned by ESPN, it’s likely network television would happily pay a premium for some new live sports content right now.
Plus as a bonus — an electronic strike zone? So the fan in the stands with the MLB.com app open doesn’t have more information about whether a pitch was a strike than a senior citizen in blue standing behind the plate eyeballing the location of a 2700 rpm spin rate slider? Count us in! It’s an odd way to bring baseball into the 21st century, but it might help speed the game along and make it more fair as well.
There’s a long way to go and a lot of logistics needed here, and safety should always be the first priority, but let’s hope we’re getting a bit closer to playing pro sports again.