ELCOME to the real world, sports fans.
Thousands of high school spring sports participants learned last week that there would be no 2020 season, just as those involved in winter sports found mats and courts pulled out from underneath as they were readying for Hershey.
Some people are even wondering what the pandemic will mean for fall sports that begin practices in late-summer.
But of course, major-league baseball is drawing the most current discussion, since under normal conditions more than a dozen games would have been in the hopper by now.
Under the most optimistic of optimistic scenarios, baseball could not start up before mid-May, even though everyone has a plan to get our national pastime back sooner rather than later.
Even non-baseball fans are starving for live games as all-sports channels continue to scramble to fill airtime.
Last week, MLB and the players’ association announced several proposals designed to kick-start MLB, most prominently among them called “the Arizona plan.” With 10 spring training/minor league stadiums within a 50-mile radius of Phoenix and the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, the proposal would bring all 30 teams to Arizona with an expanded roster of players, their coaches, team personnel, broadcasters, sports writers, and so on that would be sequestered for a four and one-half month season played in empty parks. (Do we get a “cheering” track for TV games?)
But all of this discussion is moot until we can determine if it’s even safe to be playing sports now. Of course, it goes without saying that the main objective should always be to find treatments and vaccines to protect people from the virus, not to return games that will be radically changed back to their respective fields of play. ESPN reports that by early May, there will be a significant increase in available coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround time will allow MLB’s testing to not diminish access for the general public.
Providing that the medical professions and local and state government officials sign off on the plan, still there would be cumbersome challenges.
First, if each team limits its personnel to 60 people, you’re still talking about isolating 1,800 people, who would be restricted to a hotel, a bus, and 11 ballparks—all of which would have to be sanitized regularly. It’s hard for many players to be away from their families during a 10-game road trip, so how would they do in a time frame 12 times that long.
Gerrit Cole is to become a father in mid-June. Even for $34 million a year, would he and other poppas-to-be deal with not seeing their newborns until they were four months old?
Not every team can play all its games inside the air-conditioned Chase Field, so how would that 120- degree heat grab you? If you wait until 8 p.m. local time to start games, that’s an 11 p.m. in the East.
Spending time 24/7 with the same people strains any group of 60. If you doubt that, ask your neighbors how things are going after only a few weeks of being home with three or four kids.
The game also would change. Seven-inning double headers would be commonplace. So, if a pitcher goes seven innings, is that a complete game? Will players have salaries reduced to reflect a 27 percent reduction in a “work day”?
The electronic strike zone will allow the home plate umpire to maintain social distance from the batter and catcher, but how far apart will batter and catcher have to be? Can coaches use their cell phones to chat with their pitcher, since mound visits will be nixed? Must a middle infielder stay six feet away from the bag when a runner is trying to steal?
And what happens when just a few of the 1,800 inevitably contract the virus?
I love baseball. But let’s be realistic. I’m not interested in sitting in a baseball stadium until I can hug my grandchildren.
Just wait ‘til next year.
JIM SANKEY is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.