Nationals manager: Players might sit in stands to comply with social distancing

As Major League Baseball continues discussing ways to play the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez is preparing for every scenario that might be thrown his way.

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Speaking to the Associated Press Friday, Martinez acknowledged that adhering to the suggested social distancing guidelines could be the biggest challenge MLB teams face if and when baseball returns. If it means players have to be spread throughout the stands in order to maintain distance, that’s what he’ll instruct his players to do.

From the AP:

“With only one field, we may have to separate and make groups — whether starting pitchers come in the morning, bullpen guys come another time, and then regular players come sometime in the afternoon,” he said. “With one field, it’s going to be hard to do. If we have to play scrimmage games, maybe using both dugouts [and] some guys in the stands. All these things are going to have to come into play.”

Martinez was specifically referring to the rebooted version of spring training, which will be necessary before the season can begin. Martinez also mentioned the possibility of teams being asked to train at their home ballparks. If required, that could potentially force dozens of players to converge on one field. During spring training workouts, teams have players spread out over multiple fields.

Some teams also share spring training facilities. If required to return to those facilities, that would require those teams to work around each other’s schedules.

We still don’t know how a potential season will look in terms of where games are played, how many games are played or how much preparation time will be afforded. We’ve heard plans and suggestions ranging from isolated seasons in Arizona and Florida, to the most recent three-division realignment that would drastically cut down on in-season travel.

Every best-case scenario aims for camps to reopen in late May with an eye toward starting the season in late June or early July. Martinez says he’s mapped out plans for two-week, three-week and four-week camps, depending on what the league decides.

“For me, there’s been scenarios where I said, ‘If they give us two weeks, this is what we’ve got to do,’ ” Martinez said.

Celebration plans remain on hold

In the same conversation, Martinez reiterated the Nationals plan to delay their 2019 World Series banner-raising ceremony until fans are allowed in the ballpark.

“I’m sure that I speak for everyone in our organization: We’re going to celebrate, somehow, some way. We want to hang the banner with fans. We want to get our rings with fans. When? We don’t know. How? We don’t know. But we want them to be involved.”

General manager Mike Rizzo first shared those plans two weeks ago.

Earlier this week, leading coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested it’s possible MLB could allow a limited number of fans into games sometime in 2020. We’re guessing the Nationals will want a full house at Nationals Park before throwing their party, meaning the celebration could wait until 2021.

For now, we still have more questions than answers. But the Nationals seem ready for every curveball that could be tossed their way.

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