Will your MLB team play at home? A team-by-team look at likelihood as league navigates COVID-19
Major League Baseball’s proposed 82-game season, played in home ballparks beginning in July, almost certainly won’t come off exactly as it hopes, thanks to the many factors that can waylay a season played amid a pandemic.
Most notably, MLB’s hopes of staging games in home ballparks without fans will be subject to 28 markets being cleared to play, a goal with constantly moving targets.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a Thursday appearance on CNN that he spoke with the 18 governors with MLB franchises in their states, and that “most governors expressed hopes we’d be able to use facilities, without fans.”
Most, but not all, could be a recurring theme as the game navigates a season within the COVID-19 crisis. Manfred cited many contingency plans for teams that may have issues playing in their home market. Many of those may ultimately involve playing at spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, where both governors have, for the moment, laid out the welcome mat for sports without spectators.
Another key factor is MLB’s 2020 schedule plan, which will have teams playing only against teams in their division or geographic area: East, Central and West. The advantage of proximity could be compromised if certain teams must relocate.
In the next six weeks, MLB’s plans will very much remain a moving target; large gatherings remain banned, even as almost every state has loosened stay-at-home restrictions. And some may be forced to take a step backward between now and June (when MLB hopes training camps open) and the hoped-for season opening in July.
For now, however, here’s a market-by-market look at the likelihood of teams’ ability to play at home – and where they may go if they can’t:
Arizona Diamondbacks: Gov. Doug Ducey laid out the welcome mat for all sports teams to come play in his state, be they native or relocated, as he OK’d dining in at restaurants and let several other stay-at-home restrictions expire. Should conditions remain as they are, the Diamondbacks would likely have company at Chase Field, with the likelihood other teams in the West will need a home, too.
Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, could host other MLB teams. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin, AP)
Atlanta Braves: Truist Field resides outside city limits, leaving it to Cobb County and the state of Georgia with the final calls on large gatherings. Gov. Brian Kemp allowed a stay-at-home order to expire April 30, but bans remain on gatherings of more than 10 people; a shelter-in-place order remains for residents 65 and older or those with underlying conditions.
Baltimore Orioles: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is lifting the state’s stay-at-home order, but Baltimore’s will remain, Mayor Jack Young announced Thursday, citing a lack of adequate testing. City health commissioner Letitia Dzirasa also said the city was struggling with responses to contact tracing.
Boston Red Sox: Mayor Marty Walsh told the Boston Globe on Friday that there will be no fans at Fenway Park this season, but he'd be open to the Red Sox hosting games in an empty stadium – provided MLB's COVID-19 protocols meet or exceed the city's own standards. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has not yet specified how far he’ll loosen stay-at-home restrictions when Phase 1 of reopening commences Monday. State officials have also expressed concern about a fall outbreak; the likeliest Plan B for the Red Sox for training and playing would be their spring facility in Fort Myers, Florida.
Chicago Cubs, White Sox: Gov. J.B. Pritzker has extended a ban on dining in to June 26, while other metrics are also unsettling. Illinois recorded its deadliest day (192 deaths) on Wednesday, and Pritzker said Thursday: “This pandemic is not over. And to pretend otherwise in a misguided attempt to reclaim what we have lost, will only make this last longer." The Cubs (Mesa) and White Sox (Phoenix) both train in Arizona.
Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told USA TODAY Sports “it’s a possibility” the Reds and Indians could play this summer, but that MLB’s plan to protect players and insulate visiting teams from the public will be key. The state did allow limited reopening of retail stores, restaurants and salons this week, with facemasks required, and established guidelines for the reopening of pools, gyms and amateur baseball and softball leagues.
Colorado Rockies: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said May 5 that the city can join the state’s loosening of stay-at-home restrictions, enabling 50% customer capacity for retail and commercial businesses and appointment-only openings for salons, tattoo parlors and barbershops.
Detroit Tigers: Michigan remains under a stay-at-home order through May 28 and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the state is in Stage 3 – flattening – of a six-stage opening. Whitmer said Friday that sports with fans in attendance won't occur in Michigan until a vaccine is in place and distributed. Relocating could add travel strain to the Tigers, who train in Lakeland, Florida; six of their nine Central mates train in Arizona.
Houston Astros: While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allowed a statewide stay-at-home order to expire April 30, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed a new order that kept non-essential businesses closed through at least May 20. The Astros are the only team in either West division that trains in Florida.
Kansas City Royals: The city began a phased reopening May 6 that is stricter than the statewide order, and Mayor Quinton Lucas told USA TODAY Sports he believes early July is “an aggressive timetable” for sports to return in his city.
Los Angeles Angels: Like the other four California clubs, the Angels will look to Gov. Gavin Newsom to move the state into Phase 3 of its recovery, which would allow for sports gatherings without fans; the state on May 8 moved partially into Phase 2, allowing for curbside retail pickup and other loosened restrictions. Orange County has not yet carved out its own stay-at-home orders.
The Dodgers might need to play somewhere besides Dodger Stadium. (Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports)
Los Angeles Dodgers: County board of health director Barbara Ferrer‘s comments that L.A. County’s stay-at-home order would extend through July caused significant alarm, and they were later clarified to indicate facets of it could be relaxed before mid-August. Still, the high rate of infection in the county (350 per 100,000), the aforementioned order and Newsom’s overall caution at the state level indicate the Dodgers, who train in Phoenix, would require significant accommodation to play at Dodger Stadium.
Miami Marlins: While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was slow to close the state and quick to loosen restrictions, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties (home of Marlins Park and the team's spring facility, respectively) remain under more aggressive restrictions. Miami-Dade’s grim metrics (533 cases per 100,000, 535 deaths) and continued influx of new cases (274 reported on Thursday) may keep it under greater restrictions for an extended period, though the daily case load appears to be flattening. Climate-controlled Marlins Park certainly represents an attractive asset for MLB as it tries to jam through a shortened season.
Milwaukee Brewers: Perhaps no market has a greater governor-mayor split. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order, lifting restrictions on businesses and gatherings imposed by the administration's order but keeping in place the closure of schools until fall. But Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett indicated the city’s stay-at-home order will remain in place indefinitely. “That order remains in effect, including all provisions on public gatherings, restaurants and bar operations," he said Wednesday night. The curve in Milwaukee County at the moment is not encouraging – Wednesday brought 137 new confirmed cases, its biggest single day yet – in a city that may be a key hub for MLB, given its roofed stadium and central location.
Minnesota Twins: Gov. Tim Walz’s loosened stay-at-home order takes effect May 18, and while restaurants, bars, gyms, barber shops and theaters will remain closed, if guidelines are met, they could open as early as June 1. That’s the day the Mall of America plans to reopen.
New York Mets, Yankees: Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in late April that he could “envision baseball games” at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium this summer, saying he has spoken with owners of sports teams. Yankees president Randy Levine has been among the sport’s most strident return-to-the-field advocates, saying at various that points that “our players are patriots” and that he was surprised infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci suggested the season may be canceled. While the city remains a COVID-19 hot spot, the political will to play there may be particularly pronounced.
Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants: Stay-at-home orders for six Bay Area counties have been extended through May 31, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed cited the 1918 flu pandemic as a cautionary tale for doing too much, too soon. “Folks threw off their masks and went out into the streets and partied and had a good time. And a few days later, we were even worse off than when we started. We don’t want that to happen in our city,” Breed said on April 27.
Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates: Gov. Tom Wolf has virtually cut the politically diverse state in half, moving much of the west to a “yellow phase” that can include gatherings of up to 25 and began Friday, while keeping Philadelphia and the east in the “red,” in which only “life-sustaining businesses” may open. Philadelphia has not come close to a key benchmark, of having fewer than 800 confirmed cases over 14 days, to move out of the red, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he was still composing guidelines for what code yellow will mean in the city, but cautioned that outdoor dining, for one, was still weeks away.
San Diego Padres: Mayor Kevin Faulconer sent a letter to Newsom on May 11, urging the governor to give San Diego County the authority to open sections of its economy. “This isn't about returning to normal,” Faulconer said. “It's about letting us get started with the new normal." Newsom is expected to grant counties some autonomy in reopening, but not those in metropolitan areas.
Seattle Mariners: King County, the nation’s original COVID-19 epicenter, is expected to meet Gov. Jay Inslee’s criteria for Phase 2 of reopening on June 1, which will enable some in-store dining, shopping and personal services. The county’s new case count dropped to 39 on May 12, its lowest total since March 10 and down from a peak of 214 on April 1. Meanwhile, the Mariners are helping conduct free testing for symptomatic patients at T-Mobile Park.
St. Louis Cardinals: The city will not ease stay-at-home orders until later in May; they expired statewide on May 3. Mayor Lyda Krewson “has said she’s hopeful that we would be able to see the Cardinals play by mid-summer,” spokesman Jacob Long told USA TODAY Sports.
Tampa Bay Rays: Pinellas County has been much better off than its South Florida counterparts, but has experienced a spike in the past week, from 80 cases per 100,000 to 99. St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman told USA TODAY Sports he’d be receptive to helping host an additional MLB team at domed Tropicana Field if health conditions permitted.
Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers, has yet to open. (Photo: Tom Pennington, Getty Images)
Texas Rangers: Restaurants opened May 1 in Texas and gyms will follow suit May 18. Tarrant County – home of the Rangers’ new ballpark – suffered its worst week yet for new cases and hospitalizations, with 485 reported May 10, more than double its previous high. “We are greatly looking forward to the return of Major League Baseball and the opening of our new Globe Life Field – when the timing is right,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams told USA TODAY Sports last week.
Toronto Blue Jays: MLB’s lone Canadian entry may be the likeliest team forced to their spring facility. A March 24 emergency order decreed that incoming visitors to Canada must self-quarantine for 14 days, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that order would definitely apply to the NHL, which may desire establishing “hubs” in Canada to resume play. A loosening of that order or the development of reliable, rapid tests are likely the only factors that would prevent the Blue Jays from training and ultimately playing in Dunedin, Florida.
Washington Nationals: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has extended a stay-at-home order through at least June 8, saying infections have not declined enough to begin opening up the city.
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