We’ve heard of a handful of ideas about ways in which MLB could look to bring back games in 2020. Many have involved centralizing teams in a few states, perhaps with temporary league and divisional realignment. MLB’s “preferred plan,” however, is to stage as many games as possible in teams’ current home parks, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Those games would still be without fans, of course, at least at the beginning of the season.
Should play in home stadiums prove feasible, the schedule would be designed to limit travel, Topkin adds. Teams would primarily be pitted against opponents from within one’s division and the other league’s corresponding division. (So, AL East teams would predominantly face division rivals as well as NL East opponents, NL Central teams would see a heavy dose of the AL Central, etc.). Previously considered ideas, including centralizing all thirty teams in Arizona or arranging groups in Arizona, Florida and Texas, are now “less likely” and “being downplayed or dismissed,” Topkin notes.
MLB was already considering staging spring training games at home parks, but orchestrating the regular season from teams’ home bases would be a more significant undertaking. If possible, it would offer some stability the other proposals would not have. Players and their families would be able to live in their teams’ home cities, rather than moving to a central location for a few months. Players would still have to abide by social distancing requirements, but they wouldn’t be quarantined. MLB wouldn’t necessarily have to consider drastic structural realignment, although an expanded postseason would be a possibility, Topkin adds. And even without fans in attendance, there could be some comfort for TV viewers in seeing teams at familiar confines.
Regardless of where and when MLB attempts to return to action, there’d be myriad challenges. Coronavirus testing needs to be available to players and staff. The league needs to have contingency plans in place in case someone involved tests positive. Players would no doubt have to ramp up quickly in an abbreviated spring training 2.0. There remains massive uncertainty.
Optimism is building around the league that some portion of the season can be salvaged, though. It seems the hope is that’ll be possible without needing to gather teams at a few central locations.