Things are beginning to open up in the state of Arizona. This might, or might not, be a good idea, but of specific interest to us as baseball fans, Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday that pro sports can return as soon as this week:
Part of the changes includes allowing gyms and public pools to reopen on May 13, and major league sports will be allowed to be hosted in Arizona on May 15, but without fans and with leagues following CDC guidelines.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced on Tuesday that major league sports can return in Arizona after Friday, given they follow CDC guidelines to protect public health.
“We have had discussions with leaders of some of these leagues and they all know they are welcome to operate, play and perform in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said.
Let’s unpack this, because I think there can be some assumptions made from Ducey’s statements that aren’t necessarily true. There isn’t a single pro sports league that is ready to begin play two days from now, not even the NBA or NHL, leagues that suspended their seasons two months ago. Some NBA teams were given permission to open practice facilities this week, but only two did so and they are nowhere near being able to resume their season. There’s been no word on the NHL at all, and on Monday the top minor hockey league, the American Hockey League, cancelled the remainder of its season.
In my view, Ducey’s statement could be seen as an invitation to Major League Baseball to reconsider its all-Arizona plan, its Arizona/Florida plan or the three-state idea including Texas. All of those ideas, in my opinion, are better than MLB’s thought of playing in empty home stadiums in 26 metropolitan areas in 17 states and a Canadian province.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that she doesn’t think the city will be ready for baseball by July:
“From the Chicago perspective, we need to make sure that can be done safely,” Lightfoot said. “I can’t predict where we’re going to be in July. I think there’s got to be a lot of coordination and conversation from MLB, the local teams, with their relevant city and health departments. I’m not going to support something that puts people at risk and I certainly don’t think we’re going to be ready in July for having large crowds in a ball field.”
Now, Lightfoot’s comments clearly noted the idea of “large crowds at a ball field,” something MLB is not considering for 2020. Empty ballparks are currently MLB’s idea. However, in the case of Wrigley Field, even doing that could attract large crowds to the streets surrounding the ballpark from people who just want to be close to baseball. The city might have to shut down the entire neighborhood on game days if Wrigley were used, and that would mean 40 days or nights of major thoroughfares being closed if the proposed (approximately) 80-game season happens. That doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Baseball in Los Angeles doesn’t appear like it’s feasible in July, either, per California Gov. Gavin Newsom:
Even with an agreement, the 100 or so people who would be needed to stage a fan-free game would constitute a gathering beyond California’s current limits. Newsom said he had spoken with [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred and said MLB had promised it would not take action in violation of state guidelines.
Newsom said the guidance could vary throughout the state, depending on the spread of the novel coronavirus in each region. If the guidelines do not change by then, the Dodgers, Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics all could be forced to play out of the state if the season starts in July, perhaps at their training sites in Arizona.
And that leads me to a conclusion I’ve written about many times: If the California teams would all have to play at spring training sites in Arizona, why not have an MLB season in a central location, or two or three, as in the proposals linked above? There are just too many unknown factors in trying to play in cities across North America, and that’s not even considering the potential dangers of travel in between these cities, even if MLB goes with its current idea of limiting play to East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West. Many of the cities within those divisions are far from each other (Seattle/San Diego, Boston/Miami, among others).
Gov. Ducey’s invitation is probably the best one. MLB should again consider playing their season in Arizona, or splitting it between neutral locations in two or three states. In my opinion, that would be the best way to have any actual baseball season in 2020.
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