Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

Baseball has a role in America’s recovery, as long as it understands its place

John Romano | Talk of setting up a virtual quarantine for thousands of players and support workers in Arizona is foolhardy, but there is a path for MLB to come back.
If medical experts say we can begin scaling back on some of our social distancing policies this summer, the possibility of playing Major League Baseball games in empty spring training parks, such as Clearwater's Spectrum Field, has some appeal.
If medical experts say we can begin scaling back on some of our social distancing policies this summer, the possibility of playing Major League Baseball games in empty spring training parks, such as Clearwater's Spectrum Field, has some appeal. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 12, 2020

With apologies to the wonderful Sam Cooke:

Don’t know much about the economy, don’t know much about epidemiology.

But I do know if Major League Baseball’s best bet for the 2020 season involves completely isolating thousands of players and supporting crew in an improvised Arizona biosphere, what a sad and sorry world this would be.

You’ve probably already heard about the plan that Major League Baseball seemed to float as a trial balloon earlier in the week. All 30 big-league teams gathered in the metropolitan Phoenix area to play games, day and night, at 10 or so spring training parks bereft of fans.

Related: Could the Rays, others be playing in Arizona?

On the surface, the idea has some appeal.

It addresses two of the most basic social distancing concepts — eliminating crowds and unnecessary air travel — in a smart and effective way. The issue is whether those are sufficient safeguards.

And that’s where the league’s plan has a rabbit hole problem. Common-sense precautions should be applauded. Extreme precautions would suggest a nation still in crisis. And some of the details of baseball’s still-formative plan indicates officials are willing to sidestep that possibility.

There is talk of having players sit in the bleachers instead of next to each other in the dugout. Eliminating mound visits and using robot umpires behind the plate, too. As if those simple adjustments would somehow make up for players who are showering in the same clubhouse, handling the same baseballs and getting treatment from the same trainers.

The plan also considers an essential league quarantine with players and support staff locked away from the rest of the world for months at a time.

My point:

If the pandemic is still grave enough to require a virtual lockdown of anyone involved in staging games in July and August, then we’re going to have bigger issues to worry about than seeing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo’s big-league debut.

In this March 12, 2015 file photo, Peoria Sports Complex Stadium hosts a spring training night baseball game between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in Peoria, Ariz. Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed by the league.
In this March 12, 2015 file photo, Peoria Sports Complex Stadium hosts a spring training night baseball game between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in Peoria, Ariz. Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed by the league. [ LENNY IGNELZI | AP ]

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fault baseball officials for considering contingencies. This is a billion-dollar industry that employs thousands of non-playing personnel in relatively high-paying positions across the country. Of course, owners should be preparing for a host of eventualities to avoid losing money and laying off employees, as well as wiping a season from the history books.

Want more than just the box score?

Want more than just the box score?

Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter

Columnist John Romano will send the latest Rays insights and analysis to keep you updated weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

I’ll even go a step farther. If there is medical evidence that the course of the pandemic has been dramatically altered, then the league should expand its plan to include Florida spring training sites, as well. USA Today reported Friday that there was a potential plan to realign teams along grapefruit and cactus leagues with a one-time championship.

Related: Another MLB possibility: Arizona and Florida ‘leagues’

Splitting teams between Arizona and Florida would eliminate some of the worries about time zones for television (which is pretty much the entire reason for playing games) and would provide more flexibility with scheduling. The previous argument against Florida was that spring training sites were more spread out than Arizona, but that could be alleviated by doubling up at some stadiums.

Between Tropicana Field, Clearwater, Dunedin, Tampa, Lakeland, Bradenton, Sarasota, North Port and Port Charlotte, there are nine parks within 90 minutes of Tampa International Airport. Throw in Al Lang Stadium, which the Rays control, and you have another.

The point is that baseball, while not essential, could provide an economic and entertainment boost if the country is at a point where smaller doses of normality are acceptable.

We don’t have to be alarmists, and we don’t have to be blind to science either. Coronavirus is unlike anything the world has seen in modern times, and so we should be flexible enough to adjust and adapt depending on the evidence available.

Does that mean, if it’s deemed safe, that games in empty stadiums should be considered?

Absolutely.

Does that mean, if many of us are still too wary to talk to a neighbor across a picket fence, that baseball should create its own hermetically sealed world?

Absolutely not.