Figuring out Arizona Major League Baseball (and how it is doomed)

On Monday, it came out that Major League Baseball is considering a radical if not completely insane idea to make the 2020 season happen in this age of coronavirus: put everybody needed for the season in Phoenix, separated from as many non-baseball people as possible, and start the season there in empty stadiums normally reserved for the Diamondbacks, spring training, and perhaps other teams (presumably referring to Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University, the two Division I schools in Phoenix). Players, coaches, training staff, other personnel, and perhaps even families would be lodged in spring training facilities or bought-out hotels. Games would be played in the available stadiums, perhaps as many as three a day depending on scheduling.

It is, of course, a completely insane idea. Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk is right in calling it pure madness. There are so many things that could go horribly wrong with it. Perhaps not surprisingly, MLB is already stressing that it is only being considered and is in no way decided upon.

But, what the hell, let’s say that it actually does happen despite everything. How are they going to lay down the league?

It stands to reason that the usual Cactus League teams would keep their usual spring training facilities as their home bases, save for the Diamondbacks themselves, who would use Chase Field. It would also stand to reason that to make the “tripleheader of games” idea possible, they’d want to spread out the time zones of the “home” teams so that a East Coast team could still have most of their home games at a reasonable hour back in the home cities.

So, going through the available stadiums in Phoenix, I’ve assigned hypothetical places for teams. I used a rule of thumb as assuming that each site (with the exception of Chase Field) could ‘handle’ the number of MLB teams it usually does plus one. Teams in bold are the ordinary residents of those places during the spring.

Chase Field (3): Arizona Diamondbacks (are usually at Salt River during spring), St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (3): Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves

Sloan Park (2): Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox

Camelback Ranch (3): Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets

Goodyear Ballpark (3): Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates

Surprise Stadium (3): Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays

Tempe Diablo Stadium (2): Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays

American Family Fields of Phoenix (2): Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins

Peoria Sports Complex (3): San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles

Hohokam Stadium (2): Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies

Scottsdale Stadium (2): San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Arizona State): Houston Astros/Overflow

Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark (Grand Canyon University): Detroit Tigers/Overflow

 

You’ll notice that I have the two Division I college stadiums set as “overflow”. That would mean that they’d also serve as back-up locations in case a stadium is too overbooked for a day. Other stadiums would also act as overflows as necessary, but since the college stadiums would only have one assigned team they’d be the first ones used.

Also, it should be noted that I’d imagine that Chase Field would end up being a venue for all the teams (for reasons I’ll get to later), but for the sake of this article I’m going with the three teams I have assigned.

So, let’s just say that somehow this DOES happen. What would a hypothetical “opening day” look like? Just for fun, I’ve randomly picked out June 6th, a Saturday, and assumed that MLB just picks up the schedule where it was and figures out the rest later on.

The schedule for that day (Eastern Time/Mountain Time) could look something like this:

2 p.m. (11 a.m.) Cardinals at Pirates at (overflow) Chase Field

5 p.m. (2 p.m.) Tigers at White Sox at Camelback Ranch

Approx. 7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Rays at Yankees at Chase Field

7 p.m. (4 p.m.). Brewers at Red Sox at Sloan Park

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Mariners at Marlins at American Family Fields of Phoenix

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Phillies at Braves at Talking Stick

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Rangers at Blue Jays at (overflow) Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Astros at Orioles at Peoria Sports Complex

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Mets at Nationals at Scottsdale Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Angels at Twins at (overflow) Phoenix Municipal Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Indians at Royals at Surprise Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Cubs at Reds at Goodyear Ballpark

Approx. 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Rockies at Dodgers at Camelback Ranch

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Giants at Athletics at Hohokam Stadium

Approx. 11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) Padres at Diamondbacks at Chase Field

So, looking at this schedule, you are probably going like: “Okay, this will be awkward, but it’s do-able!”

Well, yes, in theory. Except if it were to happen, it wouldn’t be theoretical any more. It’d be real, and that means a few VERY big issues.

Sure, there are the obvious ones that deal with logistical and moral dilemma: whether players would be willing to leave their families, what would happen if somebody tested positive for COVID-19, who and how everyone would be isolated, how teams would handle filling roster spots after injuries (presumably some type of slimmed down AAA team acting as a taxi squad), whether it is morally right to be doing this at all given that people are dying out there, the list goes on. Even if we were to magically wave a wand and make all those other issues disappear, there is one issue that makes the plan unworkable.

What I’m talking about here is a more physical one. As Elliot Gould’s character of Reuben says in Ocean’s Eleven, even if you get past all of the casino’s security, rob it, and get out of the front door… you’re still in the middle of the desert!

And, make no mistake, Phoenix is a goddamn desert. Take this opening day that theoretically is June 6. On June 6, 2019, the high temperature in Phoenix was 103 degrees. The low was 77 degrees. If you were to bring this to 2020, it would mean every game save for the Chase Field games, the two outdoor 10 P.M. games “hosted” by West Coast teams, and possibly the 8 p.m. local games would be taking place at least partly in heat that could be charitably described as “the devil’s jock-strap.” Never mind the coronavirus, players would be in danger of dying from heatstroke!

(This, by the way, is why I imagine that Chase Field would end up being a rotating venue without a “home” team, as rotating it would allow every team at least the occasional chance of air-conditioned relief.)

The obvious way, of course, to get around this is to play only night games aside from  some games in Chase Field. However, that means games starting late on the East Coast, which wouldn’t do well with TV, which without fans is basically the only way the owners are supposed to make money and pay salaries. In other words: that ain’t happening.

Now, there could be a way around this, but it’d require them to take the MLB quarantine bubble to somewhere else.

Greater Los Angeles, for example, is the site of two MLB stadiums (three if you want to go full freaky and frankenstein the LA Coliseum again), 10 Division I baseball programs, the MLB Urban Youth Academy, and a few other high-quality amateur or semi-pro fields. What’s more, the weather in LA is usually in the 70s during that time!

Of course, the thing is that Greater Los Angeles is a lot bigger than Phoenix,  has (so far) been hit harder by COVID-19 than Phoenix, has worse traffic, doesn’t have the spring training facilities that can used for conditioning, housing, etc.

Okay, then how about the Gulf Coast of Florida? After all, that is also spring training territory. While using the entire Grapefruit League wouldn’t make sense given that the coasts of Florida are three hours away from each other, putting it just on the western side would put 10 spring facilities as well as Tropicana Field all within at most two hours from each other. Throw in Al Lang Stadium (a former spring training facility now partly converted for use by Tampa’s soccer team but which still seems to have enough of a diamond shape to be used for baseball with some work), Jack Russell Stadium (the former Phillies spring home that is still well-maintained and even was used by the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2019 due to renovations in Dunedin), Henley Field (a classic old ballpark now used for D2 baseball which was once used by the Tigers and which has occasionally been taken over by them again during renovations at their usual spring place), Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven (former Indians training site), and the D1 ballfields at USF and FGCU and you have 17 possible places for games- even more than Arizona!

Even if you were to cut it down to just the Tampa Bay area itself, you’d get Tropicana Field plus five-to-seven spring training facilities (depending on whether you’d count Bradenton and Sarasota as the Tampa Bay area). Add in USF and the former spring facilities and you’d have 11-to-13 possible places, or roughly around the number that Phoenix has.

So what’s the issue with Tampa? For one thing, some of those old ballparks I included in the count aren’t used for spring games anymore for a reason. Having everyone on eastern time would mean that west coast  “home” games would have to start around 10 p.m. local, which may not work depending on certain ordinances in Florida.

Another reason? Rain. That’s probably the biggest issue with Tampa (besides all the other issues about holding this enterprise in the first place). Every year during spring training, there’s a day or two (or three) where seemingly every Grapefruit League game gets rained out. Well, guess what, it rains more in the summer in the Tampa area than it does in the spring.

So… what does all this mean?

It means, basically, that baseball is stuck with lots of bad choices. Even if they somehow miraculously get everything else in order (and I doubt they will) and if it is deemed appropriate to move forward (which is highly up in the air), the fact is that holding essentially an entire season in one city is tough to do while still making it feasible financially and physically to do so. So ultimately, the question is… how far are Major League Baseball and its players willing to go to have a 2020 season of any sort of meaningful length?

I suspect that, as the crisis continues, we’ll sooner or later get the answer.

Cancel (almost) Everything

On Tuesday, I said that Opening Day will not take place. At the time, it was mostly figurative, at least in America, and it seemed that while the big importance of Opening Day (capitalized) wouldn’t take place it seemed likely that the season would still start on time, albeit in a more depressing manner than usual thanks to the coronavirus.

Now, though, I think that we won’t even be seeing an opening day (not capitalized) as scheduled, much less an Opening Day. In fact, I think it would be malpractice to have it.

This realization came last night. I’m not sure when, but it was probably when a NBA game inexplicably postponed at the last second, a player tested positive for COVID19, and the entire season was suspended all in the space of what felt like a half-hour. Oh, and Tom Hanks announced he tested positive as well.

The average NBA arena holds between 15 and 20 thousand fans. Even the smallest MLB stadiums (Tropicana Field with tarps up, for example) holds thousands more people. Public Health experts in cities seem to differ on what level of crowd is too big, but even the largest estimates are around 1,000 people, or WAY WAY less than any major league stadium. Even a fan-less game may break the level of a safe gathering, given the amount of support staff, journalists, and security.

Yes, it is true that most COVID19 cases are minor, and even those in dangerous categories are more likely to live than not. But think of it this way: you are also more likely to get Christian Yelich out more often than not, but nobody would want to give him the opportunity to bat in the ninth against them.

So what I’m saying is: shut it down. Shut it all down. Unless it is either something  something essential or something that can be done entirely over television or the internet without any large amount of human interaction, it can wait.

It is said that baseball is life. That is true, but you also need life to have baseball, so there is no sense in putting anyone’s life at risk.

So shut it down. Cancel everything, and perhaps we can try again in a month or two.

Opening Day will not take place (Or: Baseball in the Time of Coronavirus)

Opening Day will not take place in 2020.

Oh, sure, an opening day (uncapitalized) will take place. The Major League Baseball season will take place, and there will be a day where the first games take place.

No, I’m talking about Opening Day (capitalized), the holiday where the long winter is finally truly banished on a joyous late-March-or-early-April day full of ace-on-ace pitching matchups, red-white-and-blue bunting, and a sense of hope for everyone. Yes, even the Orioles… at least for a couple of innings.

That Opening Day will not take place. You know the reason, if you’ve paid any attention to the news. I won’t say it here right now for at this point it would be redundant. The reason why Opening Day won’t take place, especially in places like Japan or Korea.

Opening Day might not happen in San Jose, depending on how long the crisis lasts. The A-ball Giants don’t have their home opener until April 17, but given the scary projections from epidemiologists, we have no idea what the world may be like on that day.

It is entirely possible that in the coming days and weeks Seattle, New York City, or other great cities may have the same rules then as San Jose has imposed now. Perhaps those may come before opening day, definitively cancelling Opening Day in those cities.

Ultimately, though, Opening Day has already been cancelled. For even if the gates are open and the people can come, the feelings of the day have been lost this year. For instead of hope, optimism, and rebirth from the long winter, there will instead be worry and fear.

Questions will race: Can I shake the hand of the person in the seat next to me, who I haven’t seen since last season? Did the person selling the hot dog wash their hands correctly? Should that old-timer who has been coming to games for as long as anyone can remember even be here?

Yes, Opening Day is cancelled, and we can only fathom when the long winter will truly end.

Some teams are going to go at the Astros, but it won’t be the Nationals

The endless inferno that is the Astros cheating scandal continues to burn with the fire of a thousand suns. In the past few days, most everyone has continued to pile on Houston, the Astros players, Commissioner Manfred, and the sport itself.

The games, meanwhile, rapidly approach: the first spring training games begin Friday, primarily against college teams. On Saturday, though, is when most teams get into real action against other MLB teams, with the headliner no doubt being the World Series rematch between Spring Training facility roomies Washington and Houston. It may well be the most anticipated first-game-of-spring in a decade or more, as the baseball world watches intently to see if it will be the first time that one of the 29 other teams take their vengeance upon the sinful sign-stealing ‘Stros.

It is possible, but I think most people are going to come away disappointed. Why? Here’s why:

  1. The Nationals, having defeated the Astros last October, have in some ways already gotten the best kind of revenge. If the Astros had won the World Series, it is quite likely that retaliation would be forthcoming… but of all the teams in the league, Washington probably has the least amount of beef.
  2. The Nationals will be contenders this year. Given the talk by the league that they are going to crack down on intentional HBP this season, it’s likely that the suspensions for pitchers will be longer than in the past. While it is certainly possible that some minor leaguer may go head-hunting looking to make a name for himself in front of his fellow ballplayers, we aren’t going to see Strasburg or Scherzer start their regular season on a suspension.
  3. Given that this is spring training we’re talking about, it is entirely possible that the people we’d expect to get beaned for the scandal won’t even be in the game long enough for it to happen, so unless if the first pitcher from the Nationals goes after Altuve, Bregman or the like, the opportunity will be gone fast.

So, in other words: baseball vigilante justice is coming… but I don’t think it will come on Saturday.

The Commissioner’s Trophy is stupid and should be replaced

There’s a lot of talk about how tone-deaf Commissioner Rob Manfred’s response to the Astros cheating scandal has been. Perhaps the apex of it was when, yesterday, he referred to the Commissioner’s Trophy AKA the World Series trophy as a “piece of metal.”

Imagine if Roger Goodell referred to the Lombardi Trophy as a “piece of metal,” or Gary Bettman called the Stanley Cup a “piece of metal.” Completely and totally tone-deaf way to treat what is your sport’s ultimate objective. Justin Turner rightfully pointed out how horrible a comment it was by saying that the thing devaluing the trophy right now that it has “commissioner” in the name.

However, the fact that Manfred would even dare to call the trophy a mere piece of metal speaks to something I said all the way back in 2012: the Commissioner’s Trophy is the worst of all major sports trophies.

It doesn’t have the history of the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t have iconic images of great stars weeping as they hold it. It isn’t portable and easily hoistable. It’s just… kind of there. It’s handed out because they need to have something to present.

So perhaps we should use Manfred’s horrible comments as an opportunity to get rid of the goddamn thing once and for all. Maybe bring back the Temple Cup, or reforge the Dauvray Cup, or come up with a brand new design.

And then maybe, once MLB has a better trophy, it’s own commissioner won’t just think of it as mere metal.

Continuum Classic: Jen Mac Ramos’ “Baseball Bonds”

As some of you active on Twitter may know, friend-of-the-Continuum Jen Mac Ramos’ family was involved in a horrific car accident this past weekend. A drunk driver struck their car, killing Jen’s husband Josh and leaving Jen with severe injuries. A GoFundMe site has been set up to help pay for Jen’s medical expenses and recovery, and anyone looking to donate is encouraged to head there as soon as possible.

I would not be able to claim that I know Jen, although I have often liked Jen’s Tweets and read Jen’s work, but In some way we can see a piece of Jen by reading the piece they contributed to the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon. Entitled “Baseball Bonds,” it was one of my favorite pieces of that inaugural (and ultimately only, as my real job forced me to cut back) Blogathon. You can find it with only minimal edits (removing things about the Blogathon and updating Jen’s bio to note this was written in 2016) after the jump:


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BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE PREVIEW

Aside

Well, due to some things getting in the way, I won’t have a Bizarre Baseball Culture up by tomorrow. Instead, it’ll be later in the week.

However, I am willing to give you a preview: It is a comic about Spider-Man and Ghost Rider (both conveniently in Toronto) helping a Blue Jays fan who has been hit by a drunk driver.

I’m hoping it’ll be up by the end of the week.