MLB considers empty ballpark season start in Arizona
The idea of beginning the Major League Baseball season in the Phoenix area in May without a crowd was discussed by the players’ association and the league on Monday.
Following the postponement of the campaign which was announced by MLB on March 12th, the two parties are looking at possible solutions and the notion of putting all teams - including Canadian outfit Toronto Blue Jays - in Arizona was talked about on a telephone call, according to The Associated Press.
Arizona already plays host to half of MLB franchises’ spring training, with 11 ballparks - including the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field - within around a 50-mile radius.
Essential personnel, including players and staff, would reportedly remain in isolation for the most part - staying in nearby hotels and only travelling to and from ballparks.
As per Jeff Passan of ESPN, the plan has been supported by Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plus the National Institutes of Health.
Even if a May return is not possible, a June curtain-raiser could be on the cards and is perhaps more realistic as it allows more time for necessary measures to be taken.
Baseball agent Scott Boras backed the Arizona idea, highlighting the importance of entertaining fans and bringing back a sense of ordinariness.
“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” he said.
“I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.”
Jon Daniels, the president of baseball operations at the Texas Rangers, did not want to disclose the suggestions that are on the table at this stage, and said: “But, obviously, we’d all love to find a way to play, provided we could do safely, and that would be the priority.”
According to ESPN, one of the obstacles that the league could face with regards to playing out the season in Phoenix is that sources expect players to be reluctant to be away from their families for potentially four and a half months.
The loss of gate receipts would also be a blow to MLB, with over $10 billion of its annual revenues coming via this source.
Despite the uncertainty over the MLB season and how it will proceed from here, betting sites have odds listed for the World Series, with bettors also being able to wager on each division, as well as other prop bets.
The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are joint-favourites at +400, with the former’s acquisition of Gerrit Cole looking like a pivotal one, while the latter has gone close in each of the last seven seasons and looks well-equipped to go one better.
Houston may not be the most popular team in the league off the back of the sign stealing scandal, but the Astros are still fancied to be among the contenders and can be backed for World Series glory at +600.
The Atlanta Braves are in the mix at +1200, while the reigning champions, Washington, should not be ruled out at +1600 even without Anthony Rendon, who joined the Los Angeles Angels in the offseason after helping the Nationals to their first championship.
For the only Canadian team in the league, Toronto, 2019 was not a year in which they were expected to succeed and their eventual .414 record backed that up.
The Blue Jays are priced as big as +10000 for the World Series in 2020, but shortstop Bo Bichette told Sportsnet 590’s Lead Off on Monday that there was a positive mood around the team whilst spring training was taking place through late February and early March.
“I think we’re there,” he said. “I think one of the things that sucks the most about this all going down is - obviously there’s so many more bigger issues than what we’re dealing with as a team - the way that we felt during spring training, the at-bats we were having, we were competing which is not necessarily a normal thing in spring training, we were really trying to get ready for the season and we were feeling confident.”
Having not made the playoffs since 2016, Bichette believes they were heading in the right direction to make that a possibility this term: “I had multiple teammates comes up to me and say like, ‘Man, this sucks, I really think we had a chance to compete,’ and so when you’ve got a full team of people thinking we have a chance to make the playoffs that’s something special, and I truly believed it too… Whatever season we do get we’re going to do our best and hopefully make some waves and prove some people wrong.”