As Major League Baseball continues to take cues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health officials on how to best navigate the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one plan that has taken center stage is playing games in Arizona.
An initial report indicated MLB was mulling over using Spring Training facilities in Arizona and Florida, but The Grand Canyon State now appears to have an edge. The bulk of complexes — in addition Chase Field — being more centralized than those in Florida are a key factor in what figures to be a complex scenario.
Having secured early support from the CDC and National Institute of Health, MLB is said to be eyeing a possible start during May. The league previously ruled out resuming activities before May 10, which is the date the CDC suggested gatherings of 50 or more people tentatively not be held until.
Beyond shifting from playing games in MLB stadiums to select Spring Training facilities, other changes would potentially include implementing an automated strike zone, having players sit in the stands while adhering to physical distance guidelines, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan:
• Implementing an electronic strike zone to allow the home-plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter
• No mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach
• Seven-inning doubleheaders, which, with an earlier-than-expected start date, could allow baseball to come closer to a full 162-game season
• Regular use of on-field microphones by players, as an added bonus for TV viewers
• Sitting in the empty stands 6 feet apart – the recommended social-distancing space – instead of in a dugout
Well before the current climate, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred argued an automated system for balls and strikes was ‘more accurate’ than a human umpire. He additionally clarified the perception and jargon of that meaning a ‘robot umpire’ would be behind the plate.
Though MLB has an early foundation toward beginning its 2020 season, plenty of hurdles remain. Beyond health concerns, there also is the question of playing outdoors under a blistering Arizona sun during summer months, among other issues.
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