The rite of spring that is opening day for Major League Baseball has been postponed amid a surreal 48 hours in the sports world, where concerns about the coronavirus pandemic has forced drastic measures.
Following decisions by the NBA, NHL, MLS and NCAA and its conferences to cancel or suspend events, MLB announced Thursday that spring training in Florida and Arizona will be shut down and the start of the regular season will be postponed at least two weeks.
Here’s the official statement:
“Following a call with the 30 Clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic. This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.
MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days. As of 4:00 p.m. (ET) today, forthcoming Spring Training games have been canceled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Arizona have been postponed indefinitely.
MLB and the Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule. MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.
Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans. MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.”
Mariners chairman John Stanton addressed the media at the team’s facility in Peoria, Arizona, with pitchers still throwing bullpen sessions in the background.
“We are ultimately all people and we love the game of baseball,” Stanton said. “But this is a far bigger issue for all of us right now, and we are trying to work our way through it together. I believe that this is going to be something that will have a lot more twists and turns to it. I don’t have a high degree of confidence that we will start on April 9. But I have a high degree of confidence that we will continue to make good judgments and keep in mind the health and safety of our players, our front office staff, our media and our fans in the decision making. I’ve been more confident that’s the guiding principle for Major League Baseball. And it’s certainly the guiding principle for the Seattle Mariners.”
As of now, Mariners players will remain in Arizona.
“I just spoke to the players and we’ve said that we want everyone staying here in camp,” Stanton said. “We are going to continue to have spring-training activities except for games. So we’ll have practices … at least for the time being. Bluntly, we think the players are safest here in the complex. We can make sure they are cared for and give them in reinforcement on safe distancing and safe behavior as opposed to having them get on commercial airline flights and have them go home to a variety of situations in a variety of locations. As of at least right now, there are very few positive test cases in Arizona.”
Minor League Baseball also issued a statement saying it would delay the start of its season.
“In light of the current coronavirus outbreak, and after consultation with medical professionals and our partners at Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball will delay the start of the 2020 Championship Season. We will continue to monitor the developments and will announce additional information about the 2020 season at a later date. We will work with Major League Baseball and our community partners to resume play as soon as it is safe to do so. The health and safety of Minor League Baseball fans, players and executives is our top priority, and our thoughts are with those around the world who have been affected by this outbreak.”
Manfred held a conference call with all 30 teams Thursday, and the obvious decision was made.
Just 24 hours earlier, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on social gatherings of more than 250 people, including sporting events. Mariners chairman John Stanton met with the media in Peoria and said the team was expecting to move its opening homestand to another venue outside the Seattle area.
But in the hours that followed, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, and their game at Oklahoma City was canceled. That led the NBA to suspend its season.
From there, announcements were made of multiple conference basketball tournaments deciding to play games in without fans. By Thursday morning, those tournaments were canceled, as were all NCAA winter and spring sport championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
The Mariners along with several other teams have pulled all their scouts and cross checkers off the road. They have ceased nonessential travel for the time being.