UPDATE up top: More details coming out here. Original post follows.
Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal reported that MLB was considering – as one possible way to start the season eventually – a plan that would have teams starting their season at Spring Training stadiums, and effectively living under quarantine.
Tonight, the AP reports that the plan is even more specific than that, located in Arizona, and has been discussed with the players:
AP sources: Major League Baseball, union discuss playing all games in Arizona as a possible way forward out of the pandemic. https://t.co/cLxlY4456w
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) April 7, 2020
To be sure, any planning here is said to be in early stages, with obvious hurdles to overcome before anything could be put in place. Working with 30 teams among only 11 stadiums, keeping everyone involved safely quarantined, having a plan for positive tests, dealing with the brutal Arizona summer daytime heat, etc. There’s still a lot you’d have to figure out.
Moreover, the report indicates that this was just one of the ideas discussed today. (Though I’ve gotta believe there’s a reason why this is the one that winds up reported.)
No timeline is mentioned for the plan, though the obvious implication is that such a season would be able to start earlier than if the league waited for nationwide all clear. While speaking with pro sports commissioners on Saturday, President Trump apparently expressed optimism that sports could return with fans in August. I’m pretty dubious about that one, but fan-less games at some point around or slightly before August doesn’t seem impossible.
Agent Scott Boras is quoted extensively in the AP article – approvingly of the plan, which is not necessarily a surprise given that players no doubt want to play and earn, if they can do so safely. Give it a read.
Like I said this weekend when this idea started trickling out, I’m not dismissing anything out of hand at this point, particularly if we’re talking about something still multiple months away. I don’t think anyone can credibly tell us with certainty what will or will not be possible in two months – it’s all just possibilities, and MLB has to make lots of contingency plans.
And, like I said about all sports this morning, none of this is going to be possible until widespread rapid testing is so overwhelmingly available that sports leagues can use it near-daily, if necessary, without that causing any harm to medical systems.
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.