MLB Season Could Begin in May With Games to Be Played Behind Closed Doors in Arizona

The MLB season could reportedly begin as soon as next month as team officials and federal public health officials believe their contingency plans would allow the sport to safely return despite the coronavirus outbreak.

According to ESPN, the MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) have discussed the possibility of getting the season underway next month and have received the support of high-ranking federal public health officials.

The MLB campaign was due to begin on March 26, but the league postponed the season indefinitely as sporting events in the U.S. ground to a halt as COVID-19 spread across the country.

Like the NBA and the NHL did when they suspended proceedings last month, the MLB did not offer a timeline for its resumption, indicating it would follow the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggested events drawing crowds bigger than 50 people would have to be canceled or postponed until mid-May at least.

However, according to the report, federal officials at the CDC and at the National Institute of Health have offered their support to the idea but any plans implemented by the MLB would have to strictly adhere to the social distancing measures recommended by both agencies.

The proposal being considered by the MLB would involve all 30 franchises playing games at Chase Field, the home of Arizona Diamondbacks, in Phoenix and at other ballparks in the Phoenix area, including 10 spring training facilities. All the games would be played behind closed doors.

The plan presents huge logistical challenges, not least the fact players could have to be separated from families for almost five months, should teams have to play in neutral venues as opposed to their home ballparks.

Another of the major stumbling blocks standing between the MLB and resuming the season is the availability of point-of-care COVID-19 tests, which can be carried out off-site from hospitals and deliver quick results.

The same requirement was singled out by NFL's chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills last week, when he warned a number of conditions must be met for the NFL season to begin as scheduled.

ESPN added such tests should become increasingly available by next month, which would allow the MLB to carry out all the testing required without eating into the supplies reserved for the general public. The health and safety protocol, which would also cover lodging, security and transportation among other things, could be tested during a shortened training camp, which is expected to last between two and three weeks.

From a financial standpoint, the league could stare at a significant loss in gate receipts, which currently account for the lion's share of its revenues. That, however, could be offset by the possibility of adding games to its national TV schedule.

The MLB and the MLBPA are expected to discuss the deal this week and should they reach an agreement, baseball would take a major step towards returning either next month or in June.

Last month, on what would have been Opening Day, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he was hopeful the league could be "gearing back up" at some point in May.

"The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back," he said on Wednesday night in a wide-ranging interview on ESPN's SportsCenter.

"Whenever it's safe to play, we'll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic.

"Look, my optimistic outlook is that at some point in May, we'll be gearing back up. We'll have to make a determination, depending what the precise date is, as to how much of a preparation period we need."

On Saturday, President Donald Trump held a conference call with major league sports commissioners, saying he hoped sports would resume by the summer and that fans would be allowed to attend games.

"I want fans back in the arenas," Trump during a briefing at the White House. "I think it's [...] whenever we're ready.

"As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air."

As of Tuesday morning, over 368,000 cases have been reported in the U.S., by far the highest tally in the world. Almost 11,000 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. and almost 20,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

Almost 75,000 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There have been over 1.3 million confirmed cases globally, with almost 285,000 recoveries.

Newsweek has contacted the MLB for comment.

MLB, Opening Day
A detailed view of a pair of official Rawlings Major League Baseball baseballs with the imprinted signature of Robert D. Manfred Jr., the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, sitting in the dugout prior to the Spring Training game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 1 in Lakeland, Florida. Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

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  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
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