For over 100 years, a version of the Baltimore Orioles has played Spring Training games in Florida, beginning in 1914 when the St. Louis Browns played in Deland.
But, if the MLB follows through on its tentative plans, the Baltimore Orioles and the rest of the MLB will begin the season in Arizona.
According to a report from Ronald Blum with the Associated Press, MLB and the Players’ Association are discussing holding the earliest games in the Phoenix area. Logistically, this idea makes sense as the Phoenix-area “Cactus League” ballparks are all within 50 miles of each other.
This differs from the ballparks in Florida. Some of the “Grapefruit League” ballparks are over 200 miles away from each other. Florida has more Spring Training facilities and two MLB stadiums in Tampa and Miami, but the proximity of Chase Field to the Cactus League parks makes Arizona more attractive.
According to the article from Blum, Chase Field would be the site of three games per day. No fans would be in the stands, but the games would be televised. The smaller stadiums would hold games each day, weather permitting.
Of course, all of this is speculative as the health of the players is paramount.
But, as Orioles fans know, games can be held in empty stadiums. Due to the safety of the fans in 2015, the Orioles hosted the Chicago White Sox on April 29 in an empty stadium. The Orioles won 8-2. Ubaldo Jimenez was on the mound, and Manny Machado and Chris Davis both hit home runs. No fans chased after those home-run baseballs that day.
The two other games in that White Sox series were postponed until late May. The next series, against the Tampa Bay Rays, was rescheduled to be held at Tropicana Field, but with the Orioles as the home team.
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The empty-stadium game was televised; the lack of fans was shockingly noticeable. If the MLB decides to put players in empty stadiums in Arizona, the same would be true.
But here’s the rub: if the game isn’t safe for fans, is it safe for players? Consider the number of people who have to enter the stadium to put on a televised game. Each team has their 25-man roster, along with coaches and support staff. The grounds crew has to be there along with umpires. Don’t forget the networks who need their camera crews, talking heads, and tech people.
By the time the first pitch is thrown, at least 100 people have to enter the stadium.
Before any games are played, the MLB, the Players’ Association, and other involved parties have to create strict rules for COVID-19 testing as people enter the parks. Otherwise, the risk is too great.