MESA, Ariz. >> Major League Baseball is allowing players to go home, making the decision a day after canceling the rest of the spring training schedule and postponing opening day by at least two weeks amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
After a meeting in Arizona today that included baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, union head Tony Clark and their top aides, players were told they could remain at spring training, report to the team’s home city or go to their own home. The league also announced it was suspending spring training camps.
New York Yankees players decided as a group to remain in Tampa, Florida.
“Everyone wants to stay here and get ready to go whenever the season starts back,” reliever and team union rep Zack Britton said. “(Owner) Hal Steinbrenner spoke to us. He’s going to give us access to the facility. They’re going to supply us with breakfast in the morning. “
MLB announced Thursday the season will be delayed at least two weeks from its scheduled start on March 26. Teams speculated the season might not start until sometime in May, necessitating a reduced schedule.
MLB and the union discussed the need for likely two-to-four weeks of workouts ahead of openers once the date for the season’s start has been set.
“Some of us have been around the game for a long time, have lived through some work stoppages and saw when you had to return to play protocols, it would be in the format of an abbreviated spring training and then maybe an expansion of rosters early,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.
Management and the union also talked about the possible need to extend the regular season past its scheduled end on Sept. 27, tacking some or all postponed games onto the original end of the season.
Ballparks in Florida and Arizona were locked down as the sport considered how to proceed following an outbreak that has brought the U.S. sports schedule to a standstill.
“We don’t have a playbook for this,” Cleveland Indians president Chris Antonetti said in the morning. “We are learning on the fly. We are taking the approach that we will continue to prioritize the health and wellness of our players, our staff, their families, everyone at the complex, everyone throughout the organization. That is evolving day to day.”
A union memo to players today obtained by The Associated Press outlined the options for players and said teams will be expected to help “if a player needs to extend a lease (or) find hotel accommodations.” The memo said teams “will make best efforts to provide ordinary staffing support, meals and other accommodations.”
Many minor league players — especially from other countries — had been hoping to remain in camps, where they usually have access to housing, food and training facilities. Many have already been told to go home, but some teams have said they would make efforts to let players stay.
“This may be the best option for them,” Red Sox executive Chaim Bloom said. “And we want to make sure that is a good option, but also that they have the ability to go other places if they want to.”
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said that one minor league player in the organization had been tested for coronavirus “out of an abundance of caution,” but the team hasn’t received a result. He said the team’s facility would undergo cleaning over the weekend before players could return for voluntary workouts on Monday.
Some agents are worried that foreign players might have difficulty returning to the U.S. if they go home.
In a message from the Chicago White Sox to their minor league players sent today and obtained by the AP, players were told that “if it is unsafe for you to travel, or there may be challenges in a return to the US, you may remain here, but this must be discussed and cleared by the organization.” Other teams have issued similar guidance.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus within a few weeks.
MLB has recommended scouts should not make non-essential travel, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the league has not announced those plans.
“There’s obviously there’s no games to be played right now, so our amateur scouts are in a holding pattern at this point,” Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said.
The NBA suspended its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the virus, and it wasn’t a surprise to players when MLB followed with a similar move Thursday.
Not that it wasn’t bizarre. Jon Lester was long-tossing in Cubs camp in the moments before the announcement was made, and Mariners’ coaches pulled pitchers off bullpen mounds mid-session to break the news.
“Yesterday was one of the craziest days I’ve ever had in baseball,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I went through the (1994-95) strike as player, and I can only compare it to that.”
Like other teams, Boston planned to close its spring complex in Fort Myers, Florida, through the weekend for a deep cleaning of the entire facility. CEO Sam Kennedy said the club has not had a known positive test among players, personnel or fans who have attended games, but it was preparing for such a situation.
“There feels like a sense of inevitability” about a diagnosis, he said.
Players usually get paid only during the regular season, and the delay could become especially burdensome for minor leaguers who live paycheck to paycheck. Oakland minor league pitcher Peter Bayer tweeted Thursday night that he had taken a food-delivery job, given the uncertainty around his next baseball paycheck.
“Who knows what’s going to happen with the MILB/pay,” he wrote. “So I decided to start driving with Door Dash tonight. $62 in 3 hours… not too bad.”
A day after finishing a week-long drive from Chicago, diehard fan Elaine Maddox stood outside the Cubs spring training complex this morning, gazing through locked gates at an empty, sun-soaked field.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “Spent all that money and everything, coming all the way out here. But I guess it’s better than being sick.”
She said she supported MLB’s decision to suspend play — disappointed though she was to have driven across the country with her husband, Loren, only to be locked out of Sloan Park in Mesa.
“Wasn’t exactly the memory we were hoping for,” Loren said. “But it will definitely be a memory.”