SAN DIEGO — The Padres have maintained a skeleton crew at Petco Park to keep the venue maintained.
The organization could soon require a larger staff to get ready for an unprecedented baseball season, as the ballpark could be one of 30 that will host spring training activities in June.
In Major League Baseball’s quest to play in 2020, the solution may have been found at home. It was probably there all along.
While those involved felt it was prudent to explore far-flung options in light of the uncertainty regarding the coronavirus, MLB’s hope is to stage an abbreviated season with games played at home ballparks.
At least at the start, the plan is that those games will be played without fans in seats.
All those queried over the past few days said there remain several obstacles, chief among them working out adequate health protocols to keep those involved safe and contingencies for what happens if a spike in cases occurs in a city (or cities) that is home to a club. (All spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about any plans.)
No one indicated that decisions have been finalized, but they believe MLB will make clear its intentions by the middle of this month. The beginning of July is the target for opening day.
It is unclear what the season will look like. It appears to still be under consideration that the original schedule will be picked up in early July with games added during the All-Star break and tacked on in October. Multiple reports say MLB is considering re-aligning into three divisions for the 2020 season to limit travel.
The consensus among three people who have been involved in or directly briefed on league-level discussions is that “everything” remains under consideration. One executive described the possibility of starting spring training in a month as “up in the air” and possible but “not yet” probable.
Multiple people stressed the importance of remembering conference calls continue on a virtually constant basis among decision makers, the situation is fluid and MLB has been several steps ahead of what the public, players and coaches (and even, in some instances, front office personnel) are made aware of.
This latest possibility to make its way into the public eye, however, is viewed by multiple players and coaches as the most viable. Multiple people said Monday this plan also seems to be the most serious of those considered, in that they have actually heard more about it through official channels.
The stay-at-home plan for MLB includes spring training, with teams likely gearing up for the season working out over three weeks at their home ballparks. That would require longer hours for coaches, with players working out in smaller groups due to there being just one field, and intrasquad games instead of contests against other teams.
While July 1 is seen as the preferred and likely start date, some in the game have said in recent weeks that Aug. 1 is a drop-dead date for a season with at least 100 games. The belief is the postseason cannot stretch beyond November without interfering with the start of the 2021 season.
The ideas floated in the past month to play the entire season in Arizona and/or Florida, with players isolated from the outside world, may have been the safest when considered in a vacuum. But many players expressed reluctance and even defiance regarding those plans due to the possible requirement they be away from their families for several months. And despite extensive public discussion, some in the game said those plans haven’t appeared to have significant traction.
According to multiple sources, teams are outlining contingencies for how they would host fans later this season. Those ideas include the possibility, characterized by one person as a virtual certainty, that the number of fans allowed in games would be far fewer than capacity.
Among the biggest challenges inherent in the reintroduction of fans at games, as it is has been for many issues regarding starting the season, is the different stages cities are at in terms of their coronavirus containment.
Playing a season without fans remains a financial concern for owners. As a whole, upwards of 70% of teams’ revenue comes from gate receipts. The ability to actually play this season could depend on owners agreeing to increased revenue sharing and players agreeing to a pay cut.
It was outlined in the March agreement between owners and the MLB Players Association that players would receive a prorated portion of their salary based on the number of games played, and some players and union officials have reportedly balked at any further reduction.
Several Padres players have said they believe an agreement can be reached that gets the game started again.
“It comes down to what sacrifices are we willing to make,” Padres catcher Austin Hedges, the team’s Players Association representative, said in April.
Responding last week to a general question about the many plans seemingly in the works, relief pitcher Drew Pomeranz said, “We’re all kind of prepared to see what happens. … If we have an opportunity and they tell us we can start, then I think everyone will kind of look at it and decide to play.”
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