Teams Would Need Local, Commissioner Approval Before Fans Could Return
As baseball begins the process of opening its shortened season, Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) held a virtual roundtable on what Major League Baseball is doing to keep players safe.
Pittsburgh Pitrates General Manager Ben Cherington, MLB’s Medical Director Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s Senior VP and Deputy General Counsel Patrick Houlhan, Philadelphia Phillies first baseball Rhys Hoskins, and MLB Players Association Chief Operating Officer Xavier James met with Toomey for the discussion that was held through the Senator’s YouTube page.
“After a lot of deliberating and consulting with experts about what needed to happen to make sure that we, the players, the staff, the coaching staff, but also the clubhouse staff, stadium staff, and all those people were as safe as they could be for the remainder of the season in the middle of a global pandemic,” Hoskins said. “Lots of things are different, lots of things are weird. But we knew that was going to be the case. We’re no longer eating in the kitchen; we’re kind of eating outside, trying to be as spread out as we can.”
The season will open this week as many leagues look to get back on track. The NBA has already shuffled players to its host city, where it will look to finish the remainder of its season. The NHL will do the same in Canada at the beginning of August.
Despite the need for players and fans to see games being played, everyone involved in the conference call said it wouldn’t look the same.
“We’re no longer prepping in the weight room; we’re using the concourse or a large outdoor area to make sure we can stay socially distant and being outside is better than being indoors at this point,” Hoskins said. “We’re staggering our report times, which is rather different, instead of being able to show up basically whenever you think you needed to. These things are different, and they are weird, but we knew coming in that we were going to have to accept it.”
Cherington also acknowledged the differences moving forward, but also mentioned just how difficult it has been to keep everything going.
“An undertaking like this, which is monumental I would say, is not going to come off without a hitch,” Cherington said. “It’s not going to be a perfectly smooth road. But the effort that’s gone in to trying to give us a chance to bring baseball back at the major league level, continuing to make adjustments around that, to give ourselves a chance to get to Opening Day and beyond, to me has been really impressive and something I’ve been proud to be a part of.”
Opening day will bring the first major North American sports league back after a season was postponed or delayed due to COVID-19. Despite the eagerness to get back on the field, players, coaches, GMs, and anyone else involved will have to remain on guard throughout the process.
“As close as we’re getting to Opening Day, I think we have to stay disciplined and continue to collaborate to find solutions,” Cherington said. “We certainly get more optimistic the closer we get, and it’s been exciting to see our players out there, and Rhys and the Phillies, every team in baseball starting to play games.”
The Pirates might be facing different challenges as the season starts. The Toronto Blue Jays were rejected when it came to travel to and from the United States and Canada. Canada has a ban on international travels from the United States. In order to make it work, the Blue Jays would have to go into a 14-day quarantine every time they reenter Canada from the United States.
Since the Blue Jays are the long MLB member to reside in Canada, they will be forced to play an exclusive road game schedule this year. One possible idea for a host field could be PNC park in Pittsburg.
“The reality is we need the Blue Jays to be able to play in order for all of us to play,” Cherington said. “We need 30 teams to be able to start the season. Right now, we have a problem that we need to solve, and that’s helping the Blue Jays find a place to play.”
It will be a new season with new challenges this week as MLB looks to start play. The sports world will be watching as several leagues attempt to follow in pursuit.
“So many Americans who were sheltering in place, or out of work, or similarly suffering from the impacts of COVID-19, the understandable and necessary pause of professional sports meant that we didn’t have one of our favorite pastimes, our favorite escapes from the rigors of everyday life,” Senator Toomey said. “So, with sensible health and safety protocols, like those we’ll hear about soon, I am optimistic that Major League Baseball can resume safely.”