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Here’s how a 2020 neutral-site MLB season could work

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Just a few thoughts on how baseball could have a season, of sorts.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As stay-at-home orders from governors of various states are extended through the end of April, it is becoming increasingly clear that if baseball resumes, it’s not likely to do so until July. And it is also becoming increasingly clear that even if life in general is permitted to return to a semblance of normal by May or June, large gatherings like those at sporting events might not be permitted at all this year.

Thus it would appear likely that if Major League Baseball is going to have a season in 2020, games will be played with no fans in attendance at games. The only participants would be the players, coaches, support staff for the same, and a TV crew so the games could be televised. TV ratings would likely soar for these games, even played in empty ballparks.

I think it’s important to have a baseball season, even as odd as it would be to have no fans in attendance. Sports are an important part of our society, they help bring people together and even empty-stadium baseball would be a sign that we are coming out of the current crisis.

I’ve got some thoughts on what would be the most logical way to do something like this that would minimize travel and still allow for a season of 108 games, two-thirds of a normal MLB season. That’s about how many games were played in the labor-dispute season of 1981. Here’s one report on what MLB is considering:

The problem with that idea is that even by July 1, there still might be some travel restrictions in the USA. Travel from the US to Canada might still be restricted, and the New York City area, which has been a hotspot for the coronavirus, might still have issues keeping even empty stadiums from being used.

Therefore, in my view, the best way to accomplish having an empty-stadium season and postseason would be to have all 30 teams send players and staffs to the Phoenix area and play all the games there. Why Phoenix? Because there are at least 13 venues where baseball could be played — Chase Field, the 10 spring training parks in the area, Phoenix Municipal Stadium (home of Arizona State baseball) and possibly even the football stadium, State Farm Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals play. State Farm Stadium is owned by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority and MLB would have to work around NFL games (presuming those are played), but that stadium could easily be configured for baseball since you wouldn’t have to worry about seating or sightlines for fans.

Chase Field and State Farm Stadium both have roofs. Thus, you could play two games a day there, possibly even three if you spread out the game times enough (morning, afternoon, evening). The other venues are all outdoors and obviously, in the summer it’s way too hot to play during the day. But the Arizona Rookie League plays night games at many of those spring parks (including Sloan Park), and one night game a day could be played at each of them.

So that’s 15 availabilities every day, enough for all 30 teams to compete. And having everyone in the Phoenix area would mean no travel at all for players, except by car or bus to the local venues. There ought to be enough hotel rooms and/or apartment rentals available in the Phoenix area in the summer to host all these people, presuming they are all certified healthy by then.

I’ve heard it suggested that the back fields at some of the spring training venues could be used. To be sure, that would allow more fields to be available for play, but 1) those fields generally don’t have lights, and 2) if this is to be a true season with statistics, etc., those fields aren’t equipped with the equipment needed for TV cameras, stat compilation, etc. It really has to be limited to the 13 venues I’ve mentioned above.

If more Arizona stadiums are desired or needed, there are two in Tucson — Kino Stadium, the park that used to be the spring home of the Diamondbacks and White Sox, and Hi Corbett Field, the former spring venue that’s now home to University of Arizona baseball. That’s just a two-hour drive from metro Phoenix.

I choose the Phoenix area rather than Florida, which also has multiple MLB stadiums and spring ballparks, because the Phoenix-area venues are all within about a 45-50 minute drive of each other and all players could be in one metro area. That’s not the case in Florida, where the stadiums are spread out in various areas of the state. Southern California, which has two MLB teams, has Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium, but not enough venues for every team to play. Florida or California would mean inter-city travel and my setup tries to eliminate that.

The time zone difference between Arizona in the summer and the East Coast (three hours) is a bit of an issue, so let’s say the two domed stadiums could host games at 1 p.m. Arizona time and 7 p.m. Arizona time (4 p.m. ET and 10 p.m. ET). The outdoor venues would have to play at 7 p.m. Arizona time. The 7 p.m. Arizona time starts would work fine for West Coast teams and wouldn’t be too bad for teams in the Midwest or even the Rockies in the Mountain time zone. Eastern and Midwestern teams would have to have some late-evening local time starts, just as they do in a normal season.

For the Diamondbacks’ part, they are more than willing to help out in a scenario like this:

“I think the neutral site game concepts are more built around — at least the lengthening of the schedule — let’s say a full month of October of regular games and then the month of November for our playoff games,” D-backs owner Ken Kendrick said Tuesday. “[That] would add a month to calendar basically, and that would allow more games to be played than would be otherwise.

“We have offered, by virtue of where we are in Arizona and the benefit of attractive climate and a climate-controlled building as well, we’ve offered Chase Field up as available to be used when and how Major League Baseball would want to use it.”

Kendrick also acknowledged the possibility of playing games without fans or having some games played at spring training ballparks.

“There’s not any option that isn’t being looked at because there are so many things that are uncertain right now,” Kendrick said. “So you need to look at each and every option to play as many baseball games as is possible to play, because at the end of the day, that’s what our fans would like, that’s what the players would like and that’s what we, on the ownership side, would like.”

Assuming the “all clear” is given to resume some baseball activities by the end of May, the teams could have four weeks of workouts and then begin the no-fan season Sunday, June 28.

In my arrangement I’d give every team one day off a week and play for 18 weeks, through Saturday, October 31. Six games a week for 18 weeks gives you a 108-game season, which I think would be representative enough.

At this point I think the entire schedule would have to be re-worked. For one year in this unique situation, making some sort of balanced schedule and starting over from the original schedule makes sense. Given that in this scheme no fans would be at games and every player would be in one metro area, scheduling gets a lot easier because there’s no travel. Let’s say everyone plays each league rival six times (84 games) and pick six teams out of the other league to play four times each (24 games). Since travel’s irrelevant, you’d just choose the “home” team for each game and make sure everyone plays 54 games having the last at-bat.

With the venues set up the way they are, you can’t really play doubleheaders due to weather conditions, so these would all be single games. Yes, I know you’re going to say I’m saying that because I don’t like doubleheaders. While that is true, the hot weather and the three-hour time zone difference to the East Coast pretty much precludes playing any DH in my proposed scenario.

After the 108-game season ends, you could still have a full MLB-style postseason using only the two indoor stadiums, Chase Field and State Farm Stadium, both of which could host two division series at a time, again working around any NFL games at the football stadium. The NFL has not yet released its 2020 schedule, but the Arizona Cardinals have been bad for the last four seasons and aren’t likely to be chosen for prime-time games in 2020, so that would make things easier with any games there limited to once a week on Sunday afternoons. After the division series round, Chase Field could host both LCS and the World Series, and MLB could end with Game 7 of the WS scheduled on the day before Thanksgiving. The postseason schedule could be compressed a bit because no travel would be involved.

Once this proposed 2020 season is complete, I’d simply take the existing 2020 schedule and play it in 2021, except starting a week later so there aren’t any games in March. A Thursday, April 1, 2021 starting date would have the season end Sunday, October 3 and World Series Game 7 on Wednesday, November 3, a not unreasonable date to complete baseball in 2021.

If MLB truly is going to have a season without fans in attendance at games and make it an all-TV affair, in my view the best way to do it would be to have all the players in one location, and the Valley of the Sun makes the most sense. It would be a fun and interesting way to have some baseball in 2020, weird as it might be, rather than no baseball.

Poll

How should the 2020 MLB season be played?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    As laid out in this article, with all players in the Phoenix area, using Chase Field and spring training venues
    (186 votes)
  • 13%
    At empty stadiums at various locations in the US and Canada
    (51 votes)
  • 12%
    With fans in the stands
    (46 votes)
  • 21%
    The season should be cancelled entirely
    (78 votes)
  • 2%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (9 votes)
370 votes total Vote Now