Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared his state open for major league sports beginning this weekend. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the same.
The declarations are particularly important for Major League Baseball while the league attempts to chart its way back amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic because all 30 teams have spring training facilities in either Arizona or Florida, and therefore a stadium in a state they can play in.
MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association are negotiating a return-to-play proposal from ownership that aims to bring the national pastime back this summer. Having back-up stadium options will be necessary if home ballparks are unavailable because of state COVID restrictions.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, for example, declared his stay-at-home order will expire on Sunday but asked residents to limit gatherings to 10 people. Seventeen states, plus the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada, have MLB teams.
“All these professional sports are going to be welcome in Florida,” DeSantis said Wednesday at a news conference. “That may not be the case in every other state in this country, as we’ve seen.”
The owners’ initial return proposal included teams playing in their home cities but that might be difficult. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred detailed baseball’s plan to reopen in a phone conversation with Walz, who signaled that he was looking forward to a time when professional baseball could be played again safely.
A baseball game, even without fans in the stands, is a gathering of well over 10 people, especially for major league teams with 26-man active rosters — which are expected to be expanded this year — coaches, trainers and support staff. So, even if the players’ union approves the plan, it will require Walz to loosen restrictions — at least for baseball.
The owners’ plan is to resume spring training next month and start an 82-game regular season in July. If Target Field isn’t an option, the Twins would be allowed to use their facility in Fort Myers, Fla. That in itself would alter MLB’s proposal, which includes teams playing regional interleague schedules.
That’s why playing the abridged season in just two states has been discussed.
“What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis told reporters on Wednesday.
Florida was host to a UFC event over the weekend, and pro tennis returned in the state, as well. Later this month, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning will face off against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a charity golf match to raise money for coronavirus relief efforts in Florida.
Ducey, whose state was once mentioned as a place where all 30 MLB teams could play in a “quarantine bubble,” announced sports would be allowed to reopen in Arizona without fans starting Friday as long as leagues implement public health protections and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“We have had discussions with leaders of some of these leagues and they all know they are welcome to operate, play and perform in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said at a news conference this week.
Before any of this could happen, MLB and the players association must come to a deal. Multiple players have already raised public concerns about health and the safety, as well as the proposed revenue-sharing system put forth by owners.