In mythology, the phoenix is a bird reborn by rising from the ashes. The MLB season could similarly be brought back to life in and around the Arizona city of the same name.
On Tuesday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan, one of the best and most connected reporters in baseball, dropped a bombshell. Sources told him MLB is considering a scenario where it begins its season in May or June, with all 30 teams playing their entire regular season schedule in the Phoenix metro area. The games would be played with no fans in attendance.
Before I get into the particulars of how this might work, the most obvious question involves the safety of this proposal. Is it safe? Would anyone, in MLB or otherwise, be put at risk of contracting COVID-19?
While it will take clearing some extraordinary hurdles, the most important nugget of information from Passan’s story was this: the plan “has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
That’s the line that struck me. Because if those public health officials are saying it can be done safely, then MLB should do everything in its power to make this Arizona plan work.
The plan would include playing games at Chase Field and the 10 spring training ballparks in greater Phoenix. Other ballparks that could be considered include Arizona State University’s Phoenix Municipal Stadium and Grand Canyon University’s Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark.
The eight junior college baseball fields in the Valley — Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, South Mountain, GateWay, Chandler-Gilbert, Glendale and Mesa — provide additional options.
The Arizona plan is considered the most likely scenario if MLB is going to have a season, and it’s an idea that has been embraced by league and MLB Players Association leaders, according to ESPN.
Social distancing measures that could be in play include an electronic strike zone to keep umpires a safe distance from batters and catchers; no mound visits; and players sitting at least 6 feet apart in empty stadium seats as opposed to a dugout.
Millions of people are yearning for some sort of return to sports. It would provide a welcome distraction during a time of great distress for the country.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego touched on that notion in a statement about having the entire baseball season played in metro Phoenix, while acknowledging safety must be at the forefront.
“There is not a person on the planet who doesn’t want to get back to a time and place marked by familiarity, and there is nothing more familiar than sports, especially the great American pastime of baseball,” she said. “All of our lives post-COVID-19 will look different. At the city we value flexibility and innovation and are willing to work with the many different sports franchises that call Phoenix home, but only if public health leads every single discussion.”
MLB players and staff would all be sequestered in Phoenix area hotels during the season. They would be limited to essential travel, doing little else other than going to and from the ballparks every day. Rigorous and rapid testing for COVID-19 would be mandatory for everyone.
No one knows how soon it would be feasible to start the MLB season. A shortened season could be anywhere from three months to four-and-a-half months. Some players have expressed concern about being away from their families that long.
While that is a legitimate concern, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. If players can’t play, they can’t get paid. So at least playing the season would allow them to earn a salary and provide for their families.
There are many logistical hurdles, to be sure. Some of those include how many games can be played at one ballpark in a day, and how summertime temperatures — which routinely exceed 105 and 110 degrees — will impact games.
Having more night games is an option, but that could create problems for the TV schedule. A 7 p.m. start in Arizona is a 10 p.m. start on the East Coast.
Chase Field will be a luxury because of its retractable roof. There are talks of playing two or even three games a day at the downtown Phoenix stadium.
How many games will each team play? Although MLB owners will try to get as close to 162 games as possible, that is unlikely and foolish. There have been reports of playing seven-inning doubleheaders. Bad idea.
If MLB can shorten the season to 100 or even 80 games, that would be much smarter. It would also be more exciting for fans, injecting a sense of urgency into the regular season.
Having baseball back, even if we could only watch it on TV, would be beneficial to the mental and emotional psyche of millions of fans across the country.
While significant logistical challenges lie ahead in executing this plan, I’m all for it. If this can be done safely, let MLB rise from the ashes in Phoenix. Let’s play ball.