When will the Major League Baseball season start?
Obviously, as the world continues fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, that is a question without an answer.
But recent moves by local governments across North America could point to the delay of the 2019 campaign lasting deep into the summer.
The recent agreement between the league and the union established criteria for when the season would be able to start, among them, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, that there would be no governmental edicts on mass gatherings that would prevent teams from playing in their home stadiums.
Well, hopes of an early June start could end up being impacted by that criteria, with the city of Toronto on Tuesday canceling all city-led events through the end of June. It was initially believed that could include more than 40 scheduled home games for the Blue Jays. It does not. But the move shows that cities across the continent are showing concern that social-distancing measures might need to stay in place for months.
BREAKING: Toronto cancelling all city events, event permits up to June 30 amid #COVID19, Mayor John Tory announces.— Lauren Pelley (@LaurenPelley) March 31, 2020
IMPORTANT: Toronto's ban is exclusively city-led events. This does not affect NHL/NBA/etc. from returning.— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) March 31, 2020
City exec of the Mayor's office told me via email, when asked if this affects pro sports:
"No, (the Mayor) was speaking City permitted events like parades and festivals." https://t.co/pwlgcjW0OB
In the United States, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Monday issued a stay-at-home order that lasts until June 10. There are no major league teams in Virginia, of course, but as more such orders are issued by local governments, it might not be long before a city or state with a major league team is impacted.
Though not as concrete as a stay-at-home order, California Governor Gavin Newsom said earlier this month that social distancing in his state could last as long as 12 weeks, which from when he made that statement would be June 16. California is home to five major league teams.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday extended our state's stay-at-home order to April 30.
As of this writing, Major League Baseball has put no date on how long its delay could last. The most recent announcement by the league committed to following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which at the time was the banning of gatherings of at least 50 people until mid May.
Now, the agreement between the league and the union also included the possibility that games could be played away from teams' home stadiums — perhaps at spring training facilities or neutral sites — if there were no better options. That could include making special arrangements for a team that plays its home games in a city that was particularly affected by the pandemic while other parts of the country or continent were able to start hosting such events.
If local governments in North America make decisions that impact the return of pro sporting events, it could make it difficult for the baseball season to start as soon as hoped.