Commissioner Rob Manfred struck a measured and optimistic tone late Wednesday during an interview with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt.
What everyone wants to know, but cannot answer, is when the baseball season may begin. Dozens of variables exist, not the least of which is the unpredictable nature of the timeline around containment of the coronavirus. Van Pelt asked Manfred what he hopes could happen in terms of a schedule.
“My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we’ll be gearing back up,” Manfred said. “We’ll have to make a determination depending on what the precise date is as to how much of a preparation period we need, whether that preparation period is going to be done in the club’s home cities or back in Florida and Arizona. And, again, I think the goal would be to get as many regular season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal.”
Manfred spoke with Van Pelt the night before Opening Day was originally scheduled. Major League Baseball twice suspended operations this spring because of coronavirus. Spring training games were stopped March 12 and the opening of the season was to be delayed for two weeks. Manfred moved the hiatus to at least eight weeks, making mid-May the earliest possible time to start. If teams are reassembling in mid-May, then the season wouldn’t begin until June.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier in the week a reboot would be necessary.
“I think it depends how long the layoff is,” Rizzo said. “I certainly think there will need to be a ramp-up period, a spring training period before we play any regular season games.”
Washington’s players are scattered. Thirteen remained in West Palm Beach at the team’s spring training facility. Rizzo and Davey Martinez also stayed there. Medical and training teams are in Florida, too. A trio of other players, Ryan Zimmerman among them, returned to Washington. The rest are at their homes.
“The uncertainty is how do you get ready for a date that you don’t know is coming?” Rizzo said. “What we’ve asked them to do is for pitchers to keep their arms in shape, return to their offseason throwing programs so we can ramp up quicker as spring training starts as a prelude to Opening Day, whenever that is. We set forth a personal workout baseball plan for all our players to hit the ground running so when they do get to camp, we should be ready to expedite a spring training atmosphere quicker than the norm. We already had a couple weeks of spring training. We’re trying to keep them at that level that they left camp here. Hopefully we can continue, and that would be our step-off portion when spring training starts [as a] prelude to Opening Day.”
The worst-case scenario is Opening Day 2020 never comes. Manfred conceded that is out of his control, stressing the safety of everyone involved in baseball remains the priority.
“It would be a tremendous hardship,” Manfred said. “It would be a hardship for our fans. It’d be a hardship for our players. And, frankly, it would be a huge economic hardship for our owners. It would be a real tragedy. But the one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back. 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 and healing in our country.”
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