In an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter last night, Major League Baseball’s Commissioner, Rob Manfred, told host Scott Van Pelt that baseball will be part of the country’s recovery when some semblance of normalcy returns, and the league is told it’s safe to start the 2020 campaign, which was postponed earlier this month in response to the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic.
“The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back,” Manfred said, as quoted in ESPN writer Jeff Passan’s account of the interview. “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, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic.”
The Washington Nationals, who brought a World Series title to D.C. for the first time since 1924 this past October, were originally scheduled to open the season at 1:10 PM this afternoon in Flushing, Queens, New York’s Citi Field.
Manfred said last night that the best-case scenario right now is potentially starting to ramp up towards a truncated schedule in May.
“Look, my optimistic outlook is that at some point in May, we’ll be gearing back up,” Manfred explained.
“We’ll have to make a determination, depending what the precise date is, as to how much of a preparation period we need, whether that preparation period is gonna be done in the clubs’ home cities or back in Florida and Arizona. 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.”
Talking to reporters last Friday, on a conference call from the team’s Spring Training facilities in West Palm Beach, Florida, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said that once the club has a target date for the start of the season, they’ll be able to formulate a plan for how they’ll build back up after Spring Training was shut down and the start of the 2020 campaign was postponed on March 12th.
“We’re going to be fully ready when we’re asked to be ready,” Rizzo said.
“Obviously the ramping up of pitchers and players in a safe manner is of the utmost importance to us. There’s a fine line and a delicate balance that we have to strike between having them ready on Opening Day, whenever that is, and ramping them up to get to that point.”
While they wait to learn an official date, players continue to work out in D.C., West Palm Beach, or their respective home cities, waiting for word on how the league will move forward.
“We’ll get a much better feel for what we have to do and how ready we have to be when we finally get a feel for what is Opening Day,” the GM of the defending world champs added.
“When Opening Day is announced and decided upon we’ll work our schedules back in a way to make sure that we’re fully ready to go.”
Before then, MLB, its teams, and the MLB Players’ Association will have to determine a number of things including just how many games they’ll be able to play.
“Nothing’s off the table for us right now,” Manfred said on ESPN last night, mentioning an increase in doubleheaders, a regular season that goes into October with a World Series in a neutral, warm-weather site, and other possibilities for how things could play out.
“I think we are open, and we’ve had some really positive conversations with our players’ association about relaxing some of the rules that govern our schedule. They’re very focused on returning to play and playing as many games as possible. And when you have that kind of positive dialogue, it creates an opportunity to do things that are a little different. You’re not committed to them over the long term, because this year is a unique circumstance. But there’s a lot of ideas out there, and we really are open to all of them.”
Getting baseball back, when the league, “infectious-disease experts,” and the players, determine it’s safe, will play a big role in helping the country return to some semblance of normal life.
“I think it will mark a real milestone in the return to normalcy,” Manfred said. “I think you saw it after 9/11, in terms of the resumption of play. I was there in Shea Stadium that night we began playing. It was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever attended. It’s an honor for our sport to be regarded in a way that we have been part of our country coming back from some horrific events, and we hope that we can play a similar role with respect to this one.”
Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez was in Shea Stadium for that September 21, 2001 game, as a pinch hitter and first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, who played the Mets in the first sporting event in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“That was tough,” Martinez told reporters in West Palm Beach earlier this month. “I actually flew home for the day, and I was getting ready to get back on a plane, I was on my way to the airport when all the stuff happened, turned around, went back home and turned the TV on when the second plane hit, and I thought, ‘This is not good.’ And they told me not to show up, stay at home until we figure out, so we went in and we actually went and played the Mets the very next week, and that was something. That was a tough game to play.”
While the current circumstances are drastically different from those that postponed play in 2001, the return of baseball at some point in the near future will hopefully provide a welcome respite in difficult times, which seem far from over right now.
Here’s looking forward to Opening Day 2020, and the defense of the Nationals’ World Series title, whenever it starts...