The latest encouraging sign that Major League Baseball could be closer to returning in an adjusted form came courtesy of one of the top public health officials involved in the United States’ response to the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and an advisor to six U.S. presidents on global health issues, said during a Wednesday morning Snapchat show called “Good Luck America” that he sees a path for professional sports to return without fans.
When asked if the sports seasons are in jeopardy or if they could resume this year, Fauci said, “There’s a way of doing that. Nobody comes to the stadiums. Put (athletes) in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled, but have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their families and just let them play the season out.”
In the aftermath of the coronavirus spreading into the NBA and prompting the suspension of its season on March 11, major professional and college sports suspended or canceled their seasons across the country. College basketball conference tournaments such as the Big 12 Tournament scheduled to take place in Kansas City were canceled. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament, “March Madness,” was canceled shortly thereafter.
MLB suspended spring training games on March 12, and the league announced the season would not start on time. Various contingency plans of how the season may potentially begin have surfaced in reports since.
“I think you’ll probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game, particularly me,” Fauci said. “I’m living in Washington, we have the world champion Washington Nationals. I want to see them play again.”
One of the plans reported last week would call for players, team personnel and support staffs of all 30 MLB club to be sequestered in Arizona and use spring training cites as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ home stadium to host all games in a truncated season.
Another plan, which USA Today first reported late last week, called for splitting the league between the clubs who have Arizona spring training facilities and those with Florida spring training facilities and sequestering them in those respective states while temporarily realigning the leagues for this season.
In a video interview with The Star on Friday, Kansas City Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon said he thought players would be receptive to these types of scenarios in light of the unprecedented circumstances.
“I think at the beginning of all these talks and the beginning of the coronavirus, talking with agents, talking with the Players’ Association they just let the players know that we need to be prepared for everything,” Gordon said. “It’s not going to be a regular season, but I think all players are OK with that just with what’s going on in the world.
“We want to get back to playing and get back to competitiveness, but at the same time we want to get back to giving our nation, this world, something to watch and something to hang onto. So if being in Arizona quarantined for a couple months without fans is the way it’s going to be, then I think all players are going to be up for that just to bring everyone together.”
Royals manager Mike Matheny, who was hired this offseason and took over the helm of the club in spring training, also expressed excitement and a strong desire to return to the dugout even if unusual steps were required to ensure a safe environment.
Initially, the report was that the players and staff members would sequester away from their families.
“Let’s go down and — if in fact that is something that happens or something along those lines — jump in and just do what we can and trust that you never know when when we may be able to get reconnected with our families and trust the leaders of our government and health officials that when they believe it’s safe and it’s right we’ll be able to do that,” Matheny said during a Zoom conference call with members of the media last week. “But until then, we have an opportunity to go make an impact.
“That’s one of the things that excites me most is, you know, being apart right after 9-11 watching how baseball went. And I remember thinking like, wow, you know, this is just not as big a deal as what’s going on globally right now, but watching how baseball was part of the healing process and realizing and talking with our guys about the privilege of being able to be a part of that and it could bring just a great source of escape and the distraction to a world that’s looking for something a little bit different, something a little different in the news. I think it’d be a great honor.”
MLB released a statement last week stating “numerous” contingency plans were being discussed but nothing was finalized.
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