New York (AFP) - Major League Baseball dimmed any notion of a quick start of the 2020 season on Tuesday after a report that it was focused on a plan to open in May in Arizona.
ESPN claimed MLB was "increasingly focused" on a plan to isolate players and umpires and have all 30 teams stage games in empty stadiums around Phoenix, Arizona, used for pre-season training as well as Chase Field, the domed home of MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks.
The idea, unnamed sources told ESPN, has the support of top federal public health officials who think clubs could operate safely despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But MLB, in a statement, said no detailed plan for such a move has been developed and they have not sought approval from officials or the players union.
"MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so," the league statement said.
"While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.
"While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.
"The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus."
ESPN's report said players would be tested and would live in hotels in relative isolation, traveling only to and from stadiums.
"I think there would be an adjustment but we would follow suit," retired MLB star and ESPN commentator Alex Rodriguez said.
"Players want to play and fans want to watch."
The report said top federal health officials have spoken about the viability of such a plan with MLB, which was to have opened a campaign of 162 games per club on March 26.
League stars such as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout potentially would be forced to play for months away from families and friends while the Washington Nationals would try to defend their World Series crown in empty ballparks on the other side of the country.
The report said officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have shown support for such a plan.
- 'Don't know enough' -
Two exceptions to the halt of sport worldwide have been low-level golf tours in Arizona, the men's Outlaw Tour and women's Cactus Tour.
"We just don't know enough about this deadly disease," Rodriguez said.
"Everybody is concerned. The science tells us something different every day. The stock market is going up and down every day. That's how everybody's emotions are going."
Many health concerns would have to be solved for such a plan to work, among them the need for a major increase in the availability of coronavirus tests with quick results that would not curtail testing access for the public as deaths and hospitalizations mount.
Also an issue is playing in outdoor ballparks in the searing heat of an Arizona summer. Average daily high temperatures in the Phoenix area crack 100 degrees (37.7 Celsius) from June through September.
Players might spread out in empty grandstands instead of watching from more cramped dugout areas and play twice in one day, according to the report.
"Back in the day it was something we did all the time," Rodriguez said of double-headers. "We have to make sure we don't put players in harm's way."
Players would receive salaries even as MLB would lose ticket income, the lion's share of its $10 billion annual revenues, but greater money from telecast rights could help balance budgets.