PEORIA, Arizona — Wednesday here started like a March day in Seattle. With rainstorms carrying into the morning and expected to continue over the next few days, the Mariners decided early to scuttle their on-field workouts for the day.
But any disappointment for fans hoping to watch those activities paled in comparison to what came later that morning, when Gov. Jay Inslee announced what had been reported late Tuesday evening — a restriction on a social gatherings of more than 250 people. That ban, meant to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, includes all sporting events.
For the Mariners, it meant their opening homestand of the 2020 season, scheduled to start on Major League Baseball’s (MLB) opening day on March 26 and conclude on April 1 and featuring a four-game series with the Texas Rangers then a three-game series with the Minnesota Twins, was now in serious doubt.
Inslee’s decision did not catch the Mariners by surprise. The organization had prepared for this as a logical step in the city and state’s fight against the pandemic.
The organization immediately released a statement following Inslee’s news conference that read, in part:
“ … While we hope to be back to playing baseball in Seattle as soon as possible, the health and safety of our community is the most important consideration. We will provide more information about our plans for the games as it becomes available.
Season Ticket Members, Suite Holders and Group Buyers will automatically receive a credit for tickets to unplayed games.
… Single-game ticket holders who purchased tickets directly through the Seattle Mariners will be automatically refunded.”
Mariners chairman John Stanton met with the media at the team’s Peoria complex to discuss Inslee’s decision Wednesday afternoon.
“We are trying to figure it out as we go,” Stanton said. “It affects us all personally. … We don’t have perfect information and we rely on experts and we rely on government officials, who in turn rely on experts to make decisions with respect to whether or not we can play safely in our ballpark.”
Multiple MLB sources indicated the Mariners and MLB have been in consistent discussion for more than 10 days about the escalating situation in Seattle. The two groups had been in consultation with multiple organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the matter.
As part of those discussions, several contingency plans were discussed and debated if/when it became impossible to have a normal opening day scenario at T-Mobile Park.
“There are a number of parties who have a say in this,” Stanton said, “including the Diamondbacks, who are in their home territory; the Padres, who are partners in this facility; and obviously the Rangers, the Twins, Major League Baseball and the players association. We are working with all of them.”
Stanton hopes to have be able to announce that decision by Friday at the latest.
Multiple options have been discussed, all of them having drawbacks. The least likely of the options seems to be playing at an empty stadium in Seattle.
The idea of flying players into Seattle to play games would likely be an issue for the MLB players’ union. In terms of safety for players and their families, traveling to Seattle and playing games over three to four days may have been met with resistance by players.
Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos told The Associated Press that he would be “a little bit” concerned about the health risk of going to Seattle.
Stanton was cognizant of baseball’s place in this current crisis and acknowledged playing in an empty stadium is not likely.
“It’s really tough in Seattle right now,” Stanton said. “It’s tough in many ways. Everything except traffic is tough in Seattle right now. The retail stores are largely empty. The restaurants are largely empty. There are a lot of small businesses having a hard time. There are lot of folks that are at minimum wage or who are working part time that are having a hard time.
“We are very sympathetic to them. … That will guide us to probably not play in Seattle during that period of time even in an empty stadium. We think we are probably better off playing someplace else, either here [in Arizona] or on the road.”
Sources indicate the Mariners would prefer not to travel to Texas and Minnesota to play the games. There is also a concern that Globe Life Field — the Rangers’ new stadium — won’t be ready to host regulation MLB games by March 26 despite hosting exhibition games in the days before, which Stanton mentioned. The Mariners also would prefer to avoid traveling to Minneapolis in early April — a threat of inclement weather could already snarl an undesirable situation.
The best and mostly likely option is for Seattle to remain in Arizona and play at least the opening series against the Rangers, who train just down the road in Surprise.
This would avoid sending either team to Seattle or any travel beyond a bus ride. But the best venue to do this — Chase Field — isn’t available. The Diamondbacks open the season at home for seven games over the same span. Playing two games per day at Chase Field could provide a slew of logistical challenges. Still, sources indicate MLB isn’t thrilled with the idea of regular season games being played at spring training facilities. If the Mariners were to stay in Arizona, they’d prefer to play at Peoria Stadium, but would listen to alternatives like playing at Salt River Field in Scottsdale or Sloan Park in Mesa.
“We are certainly open to other alternatives,” Stanton said. “[Mariners CEO] Kevin Mather and I had a conversation with the mayor of Peoria this morning. We are working through this as a distinct possibility and it’s probably the least disruptive. We are already sequestered here and our players and coaches and staff all have housing in this area. It’s easier.
“But that’s assuming all the other teams are able to go play their home games in their home stadiums. There are a number of other facilities down here that could accomplish that.”
There have been rumblings that, because of the increased number of cases in New York and the Bay Area, MLB could postpone the start of the season for at least two weeks. But Stanton said he was only focused on the Mariners.