Empty Ballparks

A sign stands in front of the Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. There will be empty ballparks on what was supposed to be Major League Baseball's opening day. The start of the regular season is indefinitely on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

I turned 28 on Sunday. I had as great a day as possible with all of the outside circumstances, but I couldn’t help but miss baseball — the official segue to the spring and summer and a traditional way to celebrate another trip around the sun.

Of course, there are millions more similar to me who haven’t felt quite right without baseball (and because of the current situation our planet is in). But just because we miss something doesn’t mean we need to rush it back, and in the case with the current discussions about playing games in empty stadiums in Arizona, I feel that might be the case.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan broke a story Monday that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Union were in discussions to begin the season in May, with all teams spending the foreseeable future in Arizona, scattered across several spring training facilities, as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field. Passan mentioned other possibilities were discussed, with this idea emerging as the most realistic and most preferred option.

The idea seems decent on paper. Teams would be set up in hotels, which certainly have the vacancy at the moment, and only travel to and from games. They would be strictly monitored and frequently tested, with much quicker results than we’re seeing. Any players who test positive would be isolated, with anyone who came in contact with said player also getting one of these quicker tests being floated around.

The idea for baseball is they would become the first major sport in the United States to return, something the National Basketball Association is competing for. Baseball isn’t clueless to the continuing lack of support it’s receiving here, and being the first sport here to return obviously would give it a boost it hasn’t seen in decades.

Returning too soon could be just as damaging as returning first could be beneficial. The first issue most people have, myself included, is even discussing rapid and repetitive testing at a time when many Americans still can’t get a test at all. It’s one thing for absurd amounts of money to be spent by these organizations when there’s such an income inequality here, but to translate that to testing of a pandemic-causing virus would just be disrespectful.

And what about players’ families? This isn’t exactly an easy time for people to get through. Take a husband, a boyfriend, a son, etc. out of a family for four months, and there probably is going to be some issues for some families. Players are often on the road for large chunks of time during the season, but never for this long and never in the middle of something like this. The financial support obviously will remain, but the emotional support will take quite a hit.

Seven-inning doubleheaders have been proposed, which I would be all right with, although I prefer a pair of full games if that’s the route taken. Electronic strikezones, while promising, aren’t ready to be implemented, and that’s something else that’s a part of the proposal.

There’s also the obvious question of what happens when someone inevitably tests positive. As we’ve seen with this virus, it will be a rare occurrence for a one-off transmission. How many teams will have to once again take a two-plus week break, and how will that affect the schedule? God forbid a player dies just because owners needed to keep their TV revenue.

In a pinch, games can be played without fans. Here in the Chicago area, White Sox fans saw that firsthand in 2015, when the Southsiders played the Baltimore Orioles in an empty Camden Yards amid civil protests and unrests in the days after the mysterious death of Freddie Gray in police custody, a point in time when racial tensions in America were at their highest since the Rodney King riots.

But that doesn’t mean they should be played. College sports were canceled about a month ago. We’ve been without the NBA, NHL, NASCAR and countless other sports since that time. And until we’re totally ready, sports shouldn’t return. I just don’t think we will be by the time baseball is hoping.

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