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The Mariners might have to relocate regular-season games. Could that happen to the Cubs?

MLB is making contingency plans due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

News item: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce later today that gatherings of more than 250 people will be restricted in parts of that state due to the coronavirus outbreak. That includes King County, where the Mariners play.

As a result, Evan Drellich of The Athletic reports that the Mariners might wind up playing some games in Arizona:

If government officials impose restrictions that prohibit events on the scale of Major League Baseball games in the Seattle area, the Mariners could temporarily play their home games in Arizona at their spring training facility, people familiar with the contingency plans said on Tuesday.

It’s not just the Mariners, either. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Major League Baseball is looking into playing games at alternate sites for “teams most affected” by the current outbreak:

Teams could play at other MLB stadiums in cities less affected by the crisis, when its primary tenant is on the road. They could stay at their spring training facilities in Arizona or Florida and stage regular-season contests there, since those places are experienced at hosting major-league games.

Baseball has even received outreach from outside parties with facilities large enough to host MLB teams if they can’t play at home.

Nothing has been decided, these people said, but all of the options are being considered as viable possibilities.

Ultimately, baseball realizes it might have no choice in the matter, as local governments begin to assert their authority.

MLB hopes to treat each team’s situation individually and make determinations about how to proceed on a case-by-case basis, the people familiar with the matter said.

The key sentence above is this one: “Ultimately, baseball realizes it might have no choice in the matter, as local governments begin to assert their authority.”

Could this happen to the Cubs in Chicago? There are questions about one major Chicago event:

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday questioned whether Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parades should happen this weekend, even as event organizers and city officials said the celebrations would go on as planned.

Pritzker said he and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have been in close communication about the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations scheduled for the weekend and expects an announcement on them Wednesday. He said officials have looked to what other states and cities have done, noting that both Boston and Dublin canceled their celebrations.

No official announcement has yet been made by the city of Chicago, but the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade website now says the event won’t happen:

The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade is CANCELED for March 14, 2020. Please check our website for future updates.

Back to baseball: It seems clear that Major League Baseball would prefer to start the season on time and play at alternate sites rather than in empty stadiums, as has been the case elsewhere in the world and even in the USA, where the MAC basketball tournament will be played closed to the general public. It seems likely that some San Jose Sharks games might have to be relocated:

Late in the day after that tweet appeared, the Sharks issued a statement:

SAP Center at San Jose is aware of the County of Santa Clara’s Public Health Department order to prohibit public and private mass gatherings through the end of March. We will adhere to the mandated guidelines. No events are scheduled at SAP Center until Tues., March 17. We will be reviewing each scheduled event due to take place for the rest of the month and provide an update in the coming days.

Back to baseball: Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo wouldn’t like playing in an empty Wrigley Field:

“I would definitely fight against it,” Rizzo said Tuesday in the media work room, where reporters had to conduct interviews because of new MLB guidelines restricting clubhouse access. “Just because we play for the fans. We’re employed because of fans and everything they bring for us and the energy.

“(Games) would still be aired and we’d be able to put on a show for those watching TV. The experience that fans bring for us in a game, especially at Wrigley Field, is an advantage. But if it comes down to it and that’s what we have to do, that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Based on the WSJ article indicating MLB would prefer alternate sites to empty ballparks, if Cubs games were affected, they might wind up being played at Sloan Park.

While nothing has been decided yet regarding MLB games, as you have likely seen, the situation with coronavirus contagion has moved quite rapidly. What we know now on March 11 might be very different from what we know on Opening Day, March 26, or even by this weekend.

Rizzo noted “we’d be able to put on a show for those watching TV.” One thing Major League Baseball ought to do, if indeed games are played in empty ballparks or at alternate sites, would be to open up MLB.TV and MLB Extra Innings and make those services available to all without blackouts. I understand the reasons for blackouts are unrelated to actual game attendance, but in an extraordinary situation as I’ve described above, MLB could buy itself a lot of goodwill by allowing everyone to watch its games.

This is all a very fluid situation and could change even before today is over. It would not surprise me to hear that teams other than the Mariners will have to relocate some early-season games (and it does appear that the Mariners will indeed have to do just that).

It’s something I write often here, but indeed, we await developments.