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OPENING DAY AT HOME: Updating our logistical projections for Major League Baseball’s start-up dates

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The Cubs' home opener at world-famous Wrigley Field was originally slated for March 29 (vs. Pirates). But in reality ... we could be looking at a June 5-14 start-up window.

On Tuesday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred expressed optimism about baseball ‘gearing back up’ sometime in May, presumably meaning that all 30 clubs might reconvene at their respective Spring Training headquarters (Florida/Arizona) two months from now.

Assuming this represents a feasible timeline from Manfred, who’s dealing with an unprecedented ordeal in the sports universe, the dreaded Coronavirus outbreak, then baseball fans should rejoice in the speculative news.

Why is that?

Using Manfred’s hypothetical logic, every MLB team would partake in a season of 100-plus games — a robust sample size for an embattled season like no other in the history of American sports.

BATSBY Sports offers a logistical update of the plausible starting dates for baseball, factoring in the evolving health and wellness statuses of the United States and Canada:

SPRING TRAINING, PART II: MAY 15-JUNE 3

For this three-week period, each club would have four full days of intrasquad workouts (May 15-18), allowing the players and coaches to assimilate back into their respective environments

Consequently, the Spring Training outings for the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues (single-squad/split-squad) would run from May 19-June 3; and since the majority of 2020 minor leaguers have already been optioned to farm camps, this 14-day window would enable starting rotations to quickly get up to speed with MLB talent, in terms of building up arm strength for innings endurance.

UPDATED COUNT: 101-GAME SEASON

a) Each team would play 56 intra-division games (14 per opponent).

b) Each club would play one series (either home or away) against the other two divisions in the same league (30 total games).

c) Each club would have one three-game series against every team from another Interleague division (15 total outings). This would ensure proper schedule flow every day of every week.

Namely …

AL Central vs. NL West
AL West vs. NL East
AL East vs. NL Central

SCHEDULING RULES TO LIVE BY

For this start-up hypothetical, Major League Baseball would be forced to make substantive changes to the master schedule:

**The master scheduler would have to scrap every team’s existing schedule

**Decrease the number of intra-divisional games per club

**Decrease the number of intra-league contests (outside the division)

**Limit the number of Interleague games to 15 maximum

Why not drop the Interleague games altogether, with an abbreviated schedule of 101 games?

Well, given how both the American and National leagues have 15 clubs, it would be logistically impossible to curtail crossover games in this system, without blowing significant holes in the master schedule.

OPENING WEEK: JUNE 5-14

For this crucial window, the schedule-maker must guarantee that every MLB team plays at least one series at home, either for Weekend 1 (June 5-7), Midweek 1 (June 8-11) or Weekend 2 (June 12-14).

The simple rationale: For an abbreviated season of 101 total games, no club would be mired in a 10-game road swing at the launching point, thus preserving the so-called fairness of this logistical process.

(NOTE: Major League Baseball could easily fit the 101-game schedule into the four-month window of June 5-September 27 … without adding a flood of day/night doubleheaders to the master schedule.)

NOW FOR THE BAD NEWS

The grim reality: Even though a sizable cluster of states aren’t experiencing mass infections, in lieu of Stay At Home orders from governmental officials (local/federal), we’re still nowhere close to signing off on large groups of people attending concerts, festivals, religious/school functions or major sports events (college/pro).

The easy short-term solution: From June 5-July 12, every MLB game can only include players, coaches, executive, staffers, media and essential gameday personnel in the stadium. In other words, zero ticket-buying fans would be permitted to attend games for this 37-day window.

The one ray of light: If the country’s progressing well (virus-wise) once the summer calendar officially begins, Major League Baseball could entertain the possibility of having ticket-buying fans at Dodger Stadium for the All-Star Game (July 14).

(Potential suggestion: MLB should swap out Los Angeles and Atlanta for the All-Star Games in 2020 and 2021, since Dodger Stadium might not be the best locale for ticket-buying fans come mid-July.)

Consequently, MLB could also ponder having fans in the stands for the remainder of the season, while adhering to super-tight security measures of screening fans at park entrances — namely trained officials conducting temperature checks or quick medical checkups.

Is that ideal for fans who are accustomed to getting in and out of stadiums in relatively short order?

Heck no!

But it’s also a baseline measure of preventative care in the Coronavirus era.

WHAT ABOUT THE C-VIRUS HOTSPOTS?

Let’s address another elephant in the room …

Come mid-May, what if densely populated areas such as New York/New Jersey, Seattle, northern and southern California are still dealing with a prodigious number of Coronavirus cases?

Could Major League Baseball, in good faith, actually stage games at the participating stadiums during June, July and perhaps August?

From a risk-management standpoint, probably not.

In this case, the MLB powers-that-be would be forced to relocate the Yankees, Mets, Mariners, Athletics, Giants, Dodgers and/or Angels to new locales for the 2020 season — likely the Spring Training headquarters for each club.

Would this be fair? No, but you can’t have a league without all 30 teams functioning on a daily basis.

It’s an all-or-nothing scenario for all teams involved. Otherwise, nothing happens until February 2021 (Spring Training).

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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