MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Major League Baseball is encouraging players to go home, a day after canceling the rest of the spring training schedule and postponing opening day by at least two weeks amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Ballparks in Florida and Arizona were locked down Friday as the sport considered how to proceed following an outbreak that has brought the U.S. sports schedule to a standstill. Teams speculated the season might not start until sometime in May, necessitating a reduced schedule.
Many teams said in the morning they planned to close for the weekend and re-open camps Monday. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred met Friday with the players’ association leadership, and a decision was made to encourage players to leave camp in the afternoon.
“We don’t have a playbook for this,” Cleveland Indians president Chris Antonetti said in the morning. “We are learning on the fly. We are taking the approach that we will continue to prioritize the health and wellness of our players, our staff, their families, everyone at the complex, everyone throughout the organization. That is evolving day to day.”
The dispersal is not mandatory. In particular, many minor league players — especially from other countries — have been hoping to remain in camps, where they have usually access to housing, food and training facilities.
MLB has recommended scouts should not make non-essential travel, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league has not announced those plans.
“There’s obviously there’s no games to be played right now, so our amateur scouts are in a holding pattern at this point,” Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said.
The NBA suspended its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the virus, and it wasn’t a surprise to players when MLB followed with a similar move Thursday.
Not that players weren’t stunned by the disruption — Jon Lester was long-tossing in Cubs camp in the moments before the announcement was made, and Mariners’ coaches pulled pitchers off bullpen mounds mid-session to break the news.
“Yesterday was one of the craziest days I’ve ever had in baseball,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I went through the (1994-95) strike as player, and I can only compare it to that.”
A day after finishing a week-long drive from Chicago, diehard fan Elaine Maddox stood outside the Cubs spring training complex Friday morning, gazing through locked gates at an empty, sun-soaked field.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “Spent all that money and everything, coming all the way out here. But I guess it’s better than being sick.”
She said she supported MLB’s decision to suspend play — disappointed though she was to have driven across the country with her husband, Loren, only to be locked out of Sloan Park in Mesa.
“Wasn’t exactly the memory we were hoping for,” Loren said. “But it will definitely be a memory.”
Tampa Bay minor league pitcher Peter Bayer tweeted Thursday night that he had taken a food-delivery job, given the uncertainty around his next baseball paycheck.
“Who knows what’s going to happen with the MILB/pay,” he wrote. “So I decided to start driving with Door Dash tonight. $62 in 3 hours… not too bad.”