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MLB, Union Hope To Have Baseball Back By May in Arizona

Ross Everett
by in MLB on
  • With most sports worldwide on hiatus baseball is giving bettors a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.
  • Major League Baseball, Players Association working on plan to play all games in Arizona for foreseeable future.
  • With 10 Spring Training facilities in the Phoenix area there is a unique abundance of stadiums for MLB play.

Could Major League Baseball become the first major North American league to resume play following the Coronavirus forced worldwide sports shutdown? It very well could be if the league and players’ union have their way. The two parties are working on a plan to start the 2020 MLB season in May and they’ve got the backing of ‘high-ranking public health officials’ who are optimistic that the league can proceed safely despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the optimism, some baseball observers caution that there are still an number of logistical hurdles and that a June start date is more viable.

The general idea is that all 30 MLB teams would play games in the Phoenix area with no fans in attendance. Players, coaches and other ‘essential personnel’ would be sequestered in area hotels leaving only to travel to and from. This relative isolation is a key component of support that the plan has received from Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health.

Despite the reports, the league has denied that any option has been decided upon or even that a ‘detailed plan’ has been developed:

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.”

“The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

Two of the most significant non-baseball issues: a marked increase in the amount of available coronavirus tests and protocols in place to safeguard some of the ‘essential personnel’. The players are generally in the ‘low risk’ demographic but there are plenty of older managers, coaches, umpires, etc. It’s unclear how long the games would continue under this format but much of that determination depends on what happens with the pandemic in a broader context.

The thinking is that teams would have a three week training camp during which the health protocols can be tested and implemented. If all goes well, the league could likely begin regular season play. There are a number of other possible ways the league would allow teams to adapt to the unique challenges of the situation including expanded rosters and a number of on-field rule tweaks. The most intriguing of these is a proposed ‘electronic strike zone’ that would eliminate the need for umpires to be close to the catcher and batter.

The proposed plan to resume Major League play in Arizona would also present unique handicapping challenges for baseball bettors. In theory, the dry desert climate would benefit batters and the result could be ‘juiced up’ totals. From a practical standpoint, that’s not so obvious. In 2019, games at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field trended slightly ‘Under’ with 39 games failing to exceed the total against 34 ‘Over’ and 8 ‘Push’.

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