MLB

COVID-19 could force MLB expansion, is Portland Diamond Project ready?

COVID-19 could force MLB expansion, is Portland Diamond Project ready?

COVID-19 has cut a wide path through professional sports and pro leagues are still not sure what they are going to do in order to get started again.

Foremost of these is Major League Baseball, the true “Boys of Summer” sport. Owners and players are still negotiating terms for kickstarting an aborted season and whatever happens, there is no question that both sides are losing a lot of money.

Which is very bad for them but could prove to be very beneficial for the Portland Diamond Project.

Expansion in baseball over the years has often not been about the simple need for adding worthy cities or creating more jobs for players. It’s frequently been used as the quickest and best cash grab for owners facing big debt.

Which is exactly the situation those owners are going to be facing soon -- whether they play a shortened season (likely without fans in their ballparks) or not.

Time for a quick look back:

The players’ strike in 1994, which cost millions, sparked an expansion wave in 1998, with the new franchises having to begin paying their franchise fees in 1995. A previous expansion followed a collusion settlement with the players’ association that meant owners needed to come up with a lot of quick cash.

There hasn’t been expansion in 22 years because baseball owners have been running a money machine, with rich revenue from television (regional sports networks, especially), merchandise and their successful digital presence. They didn’t want to share their pot of gold and didn’t need the quick cash infusion.

Now, though, those expansion fees are going to look very tempting to owners who are likely going to be decimated by the pandemic.

It is estimated an expansion fee these days would be priced somewhere between $1 and $1.5 billion. Adding two teams at $1.5 billion would net the 30 existing franchises $50 million apiece -- which would do a lot to take the sting out of the expected losses this summer.

It would also mean MLB could go with a sensible eight-team, four-division setup that could mean less travel for each team, appeasing players and saving money.

Of course, realignment like that would require progressive thinking baseball may not be capable of conjuring. More likely they’d try eight, four-team divisions -- so more teams could win “pennants.”

Whatever.

Could the Portland Diamond Project handle that sort of heavy expansion fee, then build its own ballpark, too?

It is believed the answer is yes. They seem confident -- they were likely going to have to pay in the neighborhood of a billion dollars (or more) for an existing team. The Miami Marlins sold for $1.2 billion in 2017.

The PDP has been quiet of late but very active behind the scenes, staying in touch with its contacts inside MLB and continuing to do its due diligence on local ballpark sites.

But competition for those expansion teams is expected to be heated, with new cities popping up all the time. Lately, Charlotte, Vancouver, B.C., Nashville and even New Orleans have been mentioned along with standbys Portland, Montreal and Las Vegas.

But in a time when the Oakland A’s can’t even make their stadium rent payments and a lot of teams are going to be going from riches to rags, expansion seems to be the easiest and quickest way to solve MLB’s looming financial problems.

It’s up to the PDP to be ready when the moment comes. And I believe it is.

Can you play baseball without spitting? That may prove to be a tough task

Can you play baseball without spitting? That may prove to be a tough task

Major League Baseball has a plan to begin play this summer and it includes all sorts of safety measures to protect players from acquiring COVID-19.

They have thought of just about everything, including:

  • No fist bumps, high fives or hugs.

  • No exchanging of lineup cards prior to the game.

  • No showering at the ballpark.

  • No eating in restaurants on the road.

  • No touching the face when giving signs.

  • No mascots.

  • No bat boys or girls.

  • No licking your fingers.

  • Players not in the game must sit in the stands, apart from each other.

  • No spitting.

OK, that’s not all the rules, but I had to stop there, because that last one is going to be the most difficult to enforce. It means no chewing tobacco, no sunflower seeds and just NO SPITTING anything!

I don’t know how you can play baseball without spitting! It’s ingrained and been a part of the game since Ty Cobb.

In the old days, I couldn't COVER a game without chewing seeds or tobacco. It was sunflower seeds as a kid, graduating to chewing tobacco later, even as a baseball writer. Can you stand around a batting cage without a chew? Pretty hard.

And do you know how difficult it is to quit chew? Very, I can say as someone who used to go through a tin of Skoal a day. Don’t hate me, I know attorneys and businessmen who do the same thing.

If you don't chew tobacco now -- good for you. And don't ever start! I'm warning you, it's nasty stuff that can kill you. Stay away!

But even if you don’t have something in your mouth, spitting just seems to be what you do on a baseball field. I don’t mean to be gross, but you know what I mean. Little Leaguers do it.

The only thing that will save the situation is the product developed by Portlander Rob Nelson -- Big League Chew. It's bubblegum that comes in a pouch and is shredded. And the best part, it's good bubblegum in a variety of flavors.

Chew the gum and don’t spit it out. That’s my recommendation.

OK, so seed- and tobacco-free, we've got that solved -- so now go play the games!

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says pro sports without fans could resume by early June

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says pro sports without fans could resume by early June

There is new hope to believe professional sports might return, and sooner than some expected.

At least it seems that way on the West Coast.

During a press conference Monday, California Govenor Gavin Newsom expressed some optimism about professional sporting events returning in early June. 

He even mentioned the first week in June as a possibility while the state of California begins its re-opening process.

Sporting events, pro sports in that first or so week of June, without spectators, and modifications and very prescriptive conditions, also can begin to move forward, and a number of sectors of our economy will open up, again, if we hold these trend-lines in the next number of weeks. -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom

In previous press conferences over the last two months, Newsom has demonstrated much skepticism about the idea of sports being played in his state.

Having Newsom announce this possibility doesn’t mean it will be a reality of course.

As leagues try to figure out the safest and best way to approach their seasons, we are most likely still a long ways from MLB starting, the NBA continuing and still a few months until the NFL is even scheduled to kick off.

But, these statements today are progress and it could mean that other states will follow California’s lead.

 

Oregon will most likely follow suit due to the ‘Western States Pact’ that was initially announced on April 13 between Oregon, Washington, and California. Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Newsom initially said in a joint statement that they entered the pact to work together to "ensure the virus can never spread wildly in our communities."

Colorado and Nevada have since joined the “Western States Pact.’ So, could that mean the proposal of returning to play for the NBA at a single-site in Las Vegas be a real possibility in June?

It sounds more likely now after listening to Newsom.

If the coronavirus cases do continue to decline in California and sports are giving the green light, all eyes will most likely be on the NBA and how they proceed.

Last week, Oklahoma City Thunder guard and President of the Players Association Chris Paul told Rachel Nichols on ESPN’s The Jump that the players “want to play bad.”

A lot of hard conversations that have to be made, a lot of hard decisions. But with the team around us, I think ultimately we'll get to where we want to. Obviously, we want to play. Oh man, we want to play. We want to play bad. And I think that's a consensus for the guys around the league. We want it to be, obviously, as safe as possible. But the biggest thing is, we miss the game. -- Chris Paul on The Jump

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also announced Monday that his state will allow sporting events to be hosted without fans and with other safety measures in place starting at the beginning of June.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who in the latest reports last week, said the league would be making a decision on the remainder of the 2019-20 season in the next two to four weeks.    

Which fits nicely with the early June timeline. 

Be sure to check out the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.

MLB players: This one time, it's not about you, it's about the fans

MLB players: This one time, it's not about you, it's about the fans

In a time when people are getting laid off, furloughed or taking pay cuts, major-league baseball players are on the verge of making a mistake that would surely push their sport further toward irrelevance.

Baseball owners have a plan for starting a season in July, with regional locations for games, universal designated hitter, an expanded playoff system, an 82-game schedule and plenty of safety measures for participants.

Owners, though, want to go back on a deal with the players signed in March that includes $170 million in advance payments and prorated pay for however many games are played.

The owners, now facing games without fans in the stadiums, are asking for the players to instead accept a one-time 50-50 split of revenue, which the players say they won’t accept, because it’s a form of salary cap.

Which they’ve never accepted.

And if they can't reach some sort of compromise, a much-needed season will be lost.

While I would always side with the players under normal circumstances, I can’t do it this time. It’s just not the time for the players to be fussing and fuming over millions of dollars during not only a global pandemic but an economic depression.

And it’s the perfect time for baseball to resume -- when it could take center stage, at least for a while, in the sports landscape.

This is an opportunity to breath new life into the game. Put microphones on players and let them talk to the TV and radio announcers during the games. Let them show some personality. It was a smash hit in spring training this year.

Show the nation, and the world, that the sport can adapt and evolve. I think it’s a rare chance to capture new fans and re-energize the old ones.

Fans want bat flips? Give ‘em bat flips. Give them what they want -- if you can find out what they want.

If baseball is going to continue with an idea that I think is a bad one -- to play in existing regional ballparks, rather than one or two hubs, with no fans in the seats -- let one fan from each team into the stadium and give that fan a spot up in the cheap sets.

And put a mic on them, too. Obviously, you need to pick the right fan, but teams know who they are.

All I’m saying is, let it all hang out. Have some fun at the ballpark. Give viewers a reason to watch.

And players, you’re building a future for your sport and investing in yourselves. Show people how much fun you have playing! You’re only going to play 82 games so have some fun with it and don’t be afraid to show it!

I know players and I know that most of them love their game. They have to stop hiding that love. They need to share that joy, put it out where we can see it.

People need to view that happiness, now more than ever. They need reasons to smile. And they need your game.

This is not the time for you to let a pile of money keep it from happening. And it's not about you this time. It's about the fans.

Report: Mariners to cut staff salaries to avoid layoffs

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USATI

Report: Mariners to cut staff salaries to avoid layoffs

COVID-19 has been tough on a lot of businesses around the world, and the business of sports has not been exempt.

Many leagues have canceled or suspended play in an attempt to keep those involved with the sports safe from the virus.

As MLB continues to weigh its options for the 2020 season, teams around the league have to deal with the loss of income that becomes greater with every missed game. 

According to a report from Corey Brock of The Athletic, the Seattle Mariners will cut staff salaries in an attempt to avoid layoffs and furloughs. 

Starting June 1st, the organization will implement a 20 percent cut for baseball operations and field staff who make $60,000 or more. The cuts will last through October.

General manager Jerry Dipoto told The Athletic that the Mariners "wanted to make sure we did the right thing and kept people afloat during a difficult time." Added Dipoto, "Our people understand the need to make adjustments and the responses have been genuinely positive.”

According to Brock's report, "The Mariners’ baseball operations staff met online and were assured no cuts or layoffs would be made before the end of May, if at all. This week, Dipoto and other members of his staff had calls with members of their staff to explain the cuts. He said the news was largely met with a sense of relief, especially with the possibility of layoffs and furloughs off the table for now."

While pay cuts are not ideal, they are the best-case scenario until the game itself returns. It may be less money, but it ensures that those on staff will continue to see paychecks during these trying times. 

According to multiple reports around the league, MLB could be eyeing a July start. 

Sports on TV without the fans sounds like a better viewing experience

Sports on TV without the fans sounds like a better viewing experience

A lot of people are talking now about the pros and cons of having sporting events without fans in the arenas or stadiums. And with good reason, because it seems that’s the only way live events can resume anytime soon.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they will have trouble watching the games on television without the crowds being a part of the broadcast.

Not me.

I sympathize with the people who are deprived of a chance to actually be there, witnessing the games live. That stinks. But the telecasts are a different story. They will be just fine -- maybe even better in some cases -- without the crowds.

The pleasure of watching a football game on TV without the constant camera shots of face-painted adults, proudly adorned in player jerseys that don’t fit, will be unsurpassed. Nor will I miss camera shots of fans waving at a camera during basketball games while someone is stealing a pass or making a shot. The game action is often too quick for the camera view of yet another kid at a college game waving a “Hi mom, send money” sign.

I noticed many years ago that when I go to games, I seldom pay much attention to other spectators while the game is underway. Why would I want my TV screen to do that?

A little artificial fan noise in the background for atmosphere? Sure, I can deal with that. As long as it doesn’t overpower the announcers.

And without crowd noise, I’m hoping microphones can be placed close enough to the action to pick up coaches and players communicating during the game. I will take that over random crowd chants, prompted by overly loud public address systems.

Baseball, in fact, would profit a lot from putting mics on players during games. It would set the game apart from any other sport if players actually communicated with announcers during the action -- as they did during some spring training games this year.

For sports, this is a big opportunity. For TV, too. It’s a chance to re-imagine their product and present it in new ways. All the window dressing will be removed. The extraneous “atmosphere” of these games will not be there.

It’s going to be just the games. Pure games. And for TV, a blank canvas around the edges.

And will those events have the same appeal without all the noise -- literal and figurative -- that has surrounded them?

We are going to find out.

The biggest key to bringing our sports leagues back is patience

The biggest key to bringing our sports leagues back is patience

Even the president is talking about bringing sports leagues back and a nation is beginning to think about the impact of playing games without fans in the stands. But there is something that’s as obviously missing in America these days as a cure or treatment regimen for COVID-19:

Patience.

We’ve been losing patience for years. Maybe even decades. We’re a Right-Now Nation. We need constant stimulation and action. We are often in a hurry for no real reason other than just because we are in a hurry. Just watch people sit in any kind of waiting room for more than a few seconds without picking up their phone. And if you wanted to buy something even before the stay-at-home notices, you probably just picked up your phone and ordered it, to be delivered to you immediately.

And while I consider myself one of the most impatient people I know, I believe that impatience rises in direct proportion to wealth. What I think is that wealthy people are among the most impatient of us all. They are accustomed to getting what they want -- and quick!

They buy it, they hire it done, they have people who get it for them -- whatever they want, they can probably get it before you and I can acquire it.

And who runs our sports leagues? Yes, some of the richest people in the world.

And that’s why I think they will probably bring their teams and their leagues back too soon. And the consequences likely will not be pretty. Just how ugly it could get would be guesswork, but I wonder what would happen if baseball or basketball would begin play and somebody associated with the games tests positive for the virus.

Would the league shut down? Would there be pressure to simply continue to play? There are hundreds of millions of dollars in play here,

I think the smart thing for us to do is be patient before starting. What’s needed first is a testing program readily available that could produce almost instant results. And along with that, a treatment program for the virus that could prevent people from dying.

If this thing can just be reduced to a bad case of flu, it’s going to be a victory. Forget a vaccine -- it will take a long time to come up with that. But a treatment? That’s possible. If you could rapidly recover from this with no more than normal flu risk of dying, that could work.

But until that time, reopening sports -- or the entire economy -- is going to be a real gamble. With human life at stake.

As difficult as it is, let’s all try to have patience for a while longer.

Real talk: Only game we will have for next several months is the waiting game

Real talk: Only game we will have for next several months is the waiting game

Some real talk about the resumption of sports in these times:

It should not be at all surprising that the NBA would be considering cancelling the remainder of this season. In fact, I expect Major League Baseball will soon be considering the same thing.

It’s because so many things have to be accomplished before it would be safe (and sane) to restart:

  • China’s pro league thought it could begin its season anew by simply taking players’ temperatures to gauge whether they are carrying the virus. That apparently doesn’t always work with asymptomatic people. China gave up on the restart. Real tests with results within an hour are needed. And then, of course, players and staffs would have to be in strict quarantine throughut the schedule -- which could prove difficult.

  • A vaccine is not likely in the offing, but would obviously open the door to a return. But that could take years -- or maybe never. It is not on the immediate horizon.

  • A medical treatment for the virus, something that could at least keep people from dying, is a much more viable solution, but such things require clinical trials that could take several months. This is the most probable road out of this hell, but not easy. Scientists are working on it all over the world and we’re rooting for them.

  • Without a treatment or a vaccine, there is no way crowds should gather for anything such as sporting events. Any restart would have to include a ban on fans for what I believe could be several months. And the idea of bringing the whole NBA together in one spot to finish the regular season or playoffs is the best idea, if they are determined to try something. But I’m not sure you could expect to isolate that many people in one spot for a great length of time. Somebody is going to go off the ranch or behind the lines and then you have a possible big problem.

I will reiterate, fans at events are just a non-starter. Totally isolating this virus is nearly impossible. All it takes is one infected person showing up in a big crowd and the whole war is on again. This deadly virus is extremely contagious.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I believe the NFL season is at risk, too, until there is readily available, reliable testing and a valid treatment for those carrying the virus.

And these leagues are going to have to accept the reality that the only game being played for months will be the waiting game.

And that’s likely to go into overtime. Or extra time. Or extra innings.

Coronavirus outbreak forces Seattle-area sports to postpone or play without fans

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USA Today Images

Coronavirus outbreak forces Seattle-area sports to postpone or play without fans

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday the state of Washington will implement new community strategies and social distancing plans to minimize exposure of COVID-19. 

Events taking place in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties with more than 250 people, including sporting events, will now be prohibited by the state. The newest measure will restrict sports gatherings for the rest of March.

Following Inslee’s ban on large group events, Seattle-area sports teams announced changes to their games. The Seattle Dragons will play without fans at CenturyLink Field, while the Seattle Sounders have moved an upcoming match on March 21. 

Here’s a look at how the latest restrictions will impact the area’s teams: 

Mariners on the move 

The Seattle Mariners, who were set to begin the 2020 MLB season with a seven-game homestand against the Texas Rangers, are working with the league to move the opening series. They will move March home games to another location, yet to be determined. Reports circulated that the Mariners could play games in Arizona, but this has yet to be confirmed by the league. 

“While we hope to be back to playing baseball in Seattle as soon as possible, the health and safety of our community is the most important consideration.”

Dragons to play without fans

The league announced Wednesday that Sunday’s game between the Seattle Dragons and Los Angeles Wildcats will be played without fans in the building. This is a huge loss for the XFL, as the Dragons have attracted crowds of 20,000-plus in each of their two home games. 

“Based on the proclamation issues Wednesday by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, the Seattle Dragons will host the LA Wildcats this Sunday, as scheduled,” XFL president and COO Jeffrey Pollack said in a statement. “The game will take place at 4 p.m. PT at CenturyLink Field without fans in the venue. The game will be broadcast live, also as scheduled, on ESPN2.”

The Dragons said the team will issue refunds to single-game ticket holders, and season ticket holders will be offered refunds or credit toward a future Dragons’ game during the 2021 XFL season. 

Sounders game postponed

The Seattle Sounders have made a decision to postpone their match on March 21 against FC Dallas at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders have said the club will continue consistent dialogue with leadership, health officials and MLS, and as more information becomes available, they will share with the public. 

“Throughout this process, Sounders FC has stated that nothing is more important than public safety and the wellbeing of our fans. With that in mind, we respect the difficult decision that has been made today, and our club will continue following the guidelines set forth by our public health authorities and government agencies.”

Defiance to play behind closed doors

The Tacoma Defiance will play their second match of the season against the San Diego Loyal squad at Cheney Stadium, however the game will be closed to the public. 

“With San Diego Loyal’s squad already in town to play the contest, we have been in touch with the United Soccer League, regional government agencies and health authorities about the best path forward. Because Cheney Stadium will be closed to the public, it has been deemed safe to proceed with Tacoma Defiance’s second match of the season.”

Seawolves await decision 

The Seattle Seawolves professional rugby team says two of their upcoming matches will be affected: March 21, 2010 against the Houston Sabercats and March 29, 2020 against the Colorado Raptors. Both games were scheduled to take place at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila. 

The team has said it is working with Major League Rugby to create an action plan for the affected matches and will provide updates when plans are confirmed. 

“While this decision comes at time of global unease, the health and safety of our fans, players, and the entire Seawolves organization is our number one priority.”

Rainiers home opener could be impacted

The Tacoma Rainers, Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, announced Wednesday that it will continue working with the Pacific Coast League to determine flexibility within the schedule, should a shutdown continue past the March deadline. The Rainiers schedule is expected to begin on April 9 at Cheney Stadium. 

The team says ticket buyers will not be charged for any game that is not played at Cheney Stadium, nor any games that will be closed to the public. 

“Our hope is to play our entire Rainiers home season as scheduled and we are excited to open the gates to Cheney Stadium without health concerns as soon as possible,” Rainiers president Aaron Artman said in a statement. 

At this time, Washington’s coronavirus death total is at 26. The new statewide case number, as reported by the Department of Health, and local health districts is 284. 

It's official: Locker rooms will be closed to media members

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USA Today Images

It's official: Locker rooms will be closed to media members

With reports swirling over the last couple of days that the NBA would be taking extra precautions in wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NBA along with the MLS, NHL, and MLB have released a statement on closing lockers to the media.

Media members will no longer be allowed in team locker rooms. Only players and essential personnel will be granted access.

Here is Monday’s official statement:  

NEW YORK, March 9, 2020 – Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) today issued the following joint statement:

“After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting. These temporary changes will be effective beginning with tomorrow’s games and practices.“We will continue to closely monitor this situation and take any further steps necessary to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.”

### Jim LaBumbard

Team and Basketball Communications