PHOENIX (AP) — It’s been another ideal week of March weather in central Arizona, with highs in the 70s and plenty of sunshine.
Perfect for an opening day baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves that isn’t happening as planned because of the coronavirus pandemic. That reality was starkly apparent on Thursday, as a nearly deserted Chase Field sat in strange silence.
But the pleasant weather was also a reminder of what could happen when and if the games resume. After all, it’s a lot like what November or even December baseball would feel like in this part of the world.
In the upside-down universe of Major League Baseball — which is on hold until at least mid-May and quite possibly longer as the world fights the coronavirus spread — just about anything is possible if the 2020 season ever begins.
“Every year, you hope to host the World Series,” Arizona owner Ken Kendrick said earlier this month when discussing options for a pushed back season, including neutral sites in the playoffs.
“Maybe we have a little edge in that happening,” he said.
His comment drew a few laughs and Kendrick grinned, too, but he added that he wasn’t trying to make jokes about a serious situation like the coronavirus spread. While a neutral-site World Series seems a bit far-fetched, these are strange times, and the sport must adjust as it figures out what the season might become.
“There are still a lot of unknowns, and our leadership team is working tirelessly to make sure our organization is handling this situation the best we can,” Washington GM Mike Rizzo said. “It’s a very, very fluid situation, and this thing is not in the general manager’s manual.”
While no one knows exactly what will happen, here are a few options if games can be played:
LET’S PLAY TWO
It’s hard to envision teams playing the traditional 162-game season if games don’t begin until mid-summer. But one way to squeeze in action would be a throwback option: Scheduled doubleheaders.
Doubleheaders were once a regular part of MLB’s schedule but have mostly faded away with the exception of make-up games due to weather. The 2020 season could be different, with teams playing eight or even nine games in a week.
If that’s the case, there would be talk of expanding rosters to help keep players — especially pitchers — from getting overworked. MLB had already changed the rules to allow 26 players on the active roster this season and that number could jump to 28 or even 30 in a condensed situation.
Twins pitcher Taylor Rogers said the teams and the players would want to play as many games as possible.
“It’s in both of our best interests to do that and it’s in the fans’ best interest,” Rogers said. “So, I think whatever thing we can put together to get the most games in, everybody’s going to win on that account.”
Baseball has made schedule adjustments on the fly before. Nearly 40 years ago, there was a strike in the middle of the 1981 season that wiped out games for nearly two months from of a season known for Fernando Valenzuela’s electric rookie season and the Dodgers’ World Series win.
The season was split into two halves and the playoffs expanded to eight teams from the usual four. The division winners from each half played each other before eventually moving on to the league championship series and World Series. Teams played around 110 games in the regular season — Pete Rose breaking Stan Musial’s NL career hits record was among the highlights.
The 2020 regular season was scheduled to end on Sept. 27, but it’s possible games could be pushed well into October or November. That probably wouldn’t be a huge problem in warm-weather cities like Houston and Los Angeles or places with retractable roofs like Toronto.
But November night games in Denver, Chicago or Boston? Brrrrr.
“I think we are going to have to look at some stuff because we all know what baseball in Minnesota could look like in November,” Rogers said.
One solution to cold-weather baseball is moving to neutral sites. The teams could return to their spring training homes in Arizona and Florida in the late fall which would cut down on travel so teams could play lots of games in a short time period.
Having the World Series at a neutral site like Phoenix or Miami would certainly be different. But it seems to work just fine for the Super Bowl.
Kendrick and Arizona president Derrick Hall said the franchise would be open to sharing its market if teams needed to use spring training sites or even Chase Field for regular season or postseason games.
Players and executives all seem to agree on one thing: If baseball is played this season, flexibility will be key.
Could there be doubleheaders with seven-inning games? An expanded playoff bracket or round robin tournaments in neutral-site cities? Some options are more likely than others but there’s not much that won’t be considered.
One thing is certain: Everyone around the game wants to play as soon as it’s safely possible.
“Baseball has always played an important role in getting the country back to normalcy,” Hall said. “Whether it was after 9/11 or wartime or in this case, after the coronavirus has been settled. We’re going to know that life is back to what it should be when our gates our open.”
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich in Washington and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this story.
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