Nationals

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are considering alternate sites for next Thursday’s Major League Baseball season opener, and future games, NBC Sports Washington confirmed.

The new minor-league facility in Fredericksburg is under consideration as an alternate site because Washington mandates Nationals players or staff remain in quarantine for 14 days after either contracting or coming in contact with someone who has coronavirus.

The Washington Post first reported the possible location alterations Thursday.  The Nationals are concerned about a competitive disadvantage because they are under more stringent restrictions than put forth in MLB’s operations manual, which does not call for a 14-day quarantine, the way the District does.

Teams are required to operate under the rules of their local municipalities -- no matter what MLB’s baseline protocol is. The Nationals are scheduled to host the New York Yankees on July 23 to start the season with a nationally-televised game on ESPN.

Playing the season opener somewhere other than Nationals Park has multiple complications. First, the stadium in Fredericksburg, new for 2020, is not finished. The Nationals are using it as an alternate training site for the younger players in their 60-man player pool. The field is operable. But other construction is ongoing.

A decision to move from the major-league park to a minor-league stadium -- either one time or for the season -- would take approvals from multiple large factions in less than a week. Among them would be the state of Virginia, the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball and one of its broadcast partners, ESPN.

 

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Frame the possible conversation this way: The Nationals tell everyone involved they would prefer to move the location. Major League Baseball then tries to find a reason for acceptance of moving its season opener to a minor-league park. The Yankees accept playing in the park. The state of Virginia promptly allows the Nationals to play in the park. Everything set up in recent weeks in Nationals Park instantly becomes moot. A day after electronic crowd noise, the scoreboard and other environmental changes were added, the Nationals set up blue tents up the first- and third-base lines with enormous fans, presumably for players to social distance in. That would all be a waste.

There appears to be little to no reason for the District to alter its coronavirus protocol in order to satisfy the Nationals. The suggestion of moving the team for its opener -- or any other games -- to another site doesn’t change many of the realities for the city.

So, the District is not at risk for anything other than temporary bad public relations should the team temporarily go elsewhere. Fans are not allowed in the stadium as it is. The climate in the city -- and beyond -- is much more focused on controlling the pandemic and navigating current social unrest. Mayor Muriel Bowser received 80 percent of the vote in the 2018 mayoral race. Why would she yield here?

The Nationals needed to obtain a waiver from the city in order to operate Nationals Park for workouts and games. Bowser announced its approval June 30, just one day before intake testing and four days before workouts were to begin. They are currently operating under the terms of that waiver.

“The initial waiver was for training, then of course MLB announcing that games would resume,” Christopher Rodriguez, Director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said at the time. “We had discussions with the Nationals on what that would look like: no fans, no spectators. So they submitted plans that we approved to have the games.”

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Asked this week if the waiver precluded the Nationals from having fans in the stands for all of 2020 or if there could be future considerations for a change if the environment in the city allowed, the city was non-committal.

“As the health and safety of our residents and visitors is paramount, we would rather be first in the standings than first to experiment with fans in the stands,” John Falcicchio, Chief of Staff for Mayor Bowser, said in a statement to NBC Sports Washington. “We will continue to monitor conditions and follow CDC guidance and DC Health recommendations as the league moves forward with its training camp and then ultimately games.”

 

On Thursday, Juan Soto, Luis Garcia and Howie Kendrick joined their teammates at Nationals Park for workouts. The trio had not been on the field after entering quarantine following intake testing and contact tracing. The example of losing such a crucial portion of the team for an extended period is one that could easily prompt a consideration of a -- safe -- workaround from within the organization. If those players were ready sooner, and through the protocols put in place by the league, why can’t they return? There’s a logical path to the question.

And the reason is because each team is working under the rules in its city. The Los Angeles Dodgers are dealing with the same 14-day period. The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday the Dodgers are not considering alternate sites for games.

So, for now, the process appears to only be part of posturing.

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