The prevailing story over the last several weeks basically everywhere has been the rapid spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, from China to the rest of the world. We have seen mass quarantines, evacuations, hospitalizations, and panic as the global population tries to get a better handle on what this virus is, how dangerous it is, and how to contain it’s spread. It is a problem without easy answers.
This has, of course, led to impacts on the sports world already. Various sporting events have already been cancelled and the Japanese equivalent of MLB, the Nippon Professional Baseball League, postponed the start of their season already due to concerns with such large crowds in the face of the epidemic.
It has been speculated that on American soil, we could see games cancelled or, at the very least, the viewing experience of such games changed pretty dramatically in order to keep thousands of people in tight quarters at a game from infecting one another. MLB called a conference call with all of its owners this afternoon and we now know what steps MLB is starting with.
After a conference call with owners Monday evening, MLB remains committed to playing the remainder of the slate of spring-training games as well as opening the regular season on time, sources tell ESPN. That plan, like so many, is contingent on how the coronavirus spreads.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 9, 2020
This is a lot to take in, but the gist is that teams of all the leagues want at least one place where they can completely control the sanitary conditions as well as who is or isn’t allowed in. This isn’t an unreasonable position as the team has invested millions in their rosters and they cannot realistically vet each member of the media regarding where they have been and their health. Passan’s reporting also goes on to be very clear that media will still have access to players in areas outside of the clubhouse and there will still be press conference environments, although players and media will be abiding by the CDC’s recommendation of staying six feet away.
As for starting the season on time, this was always the action they were going to take. The season is going to start on time until it absolutely cannot. The sheer amount of money at stake for losing even a day’s worth of games will give clubs and MLB a lot of incentives to try and start games on Opening Day. Now, whether or not fears over the spread of coronavirus will keep fans from coming to parks even if the gates are open is very much an open question and it seems like MLB isn’t closing the door completely on postponements or delays.