How fast is the world changing? It was just five days ago that I wrote about a possible NFL contingency plan to move the entire league to the middle of nowhere, sequester its players, and play the season in an effective quarantine … and that plan seemed beyond extreme.
Now, less than a week later, baseball is actually considering something very similar, according to Ken Rosenthal:
Baseball is considering games in empty spring training parks, with no fans and quarantined players. But the logistics of such a plan would be extremely complex, and perhaps insurmountable. Story: https://t.co/TphgvYsCrt
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) April 4, 2020
Because of the existence of Spring Training stadiums and facilities, baseball doesn’t QUITE have the same logistical challenges that the NFL would have in trying to play games entirely away from home, but it would face the same obvious challenges in keeping players and necessary personnel healthy when necessarily in close quarters.
As Rosenthal explains, the theoretical plan being explored by MLB would have all 30 teams in one location – most likely Arizona, given the close proximity of the facilities there all clustered around the Phoenix area – and the games would just be for TV viewing. Maybe it would be for the first month of the season, maybe two, maybe the whole thing. That part might be TBD right from the get-go.
But to even get off the ground, you have to have structures in place to keep not only the players healthy, but also everyone necessary to make this kind of plan function (team officials, TV people, hospitality people, etc.). That means, at a minimum, widespread rapid testing, hard-and-fast distancing measures, player/personnel quarantining plans, etc. And ideally, it also means new medical treatments have emerged. Logistically and technically, everyone knows we’re not there yet.
But since it is not impossible that we could be there in two or three months, baseball has to add this to its group of contingency plans and explore the feasibility. A lot of what the sport (and other sports) provides to the country at a time like this could actually be very important.
It’s just that you’ve got to figure out whether you can actually do it in a safe way where no one is more exposed to risk than they might otherwise be, where no health facilities are put under undue strain, and where there’s a good plan in place that doesn’t involve blowing the whole league up if one player tests positive. Maybe it’ll be possible later this summer. Maybe it won’t be. (Oh, also? It gets perversely hot in the summer in Arizona, so, yeah, that’s another logistical hurdle.)
Like I said about the “extreme” NFL proposal: I’m not going to dismiss anything out-of-hand at a time like this, because we are in an extreme situation. A historically unprecedented time in modern culture might require a historically unprecedented approach to ensuring that major sports can be played in some fashion. I don’t want to overstate the importance of sports, but I also don’t want to ignore that at a time when everyone is feeling separated, anxious, and off, it would be a huge boon to all of our psyches to know that we’re going to be able to partake in something so many of us love to share together.
In other words, the physical health of everyone involved in this kind of planning is critical. But there are other genuine elements of health to consider, including the mental health of a nation that may have been locked down for months at that point. I won’t pretend to know how to balance those enormous scales, but of course we should be proactively thinking about long-term mental health and a sense of “normal” that so many of us will be seeking, increasingly, in the coming months of isolation.