MLB suspends spring training; regular season delayed by at least two weeks

Add Major League Baseball to the list of sports leagues, professional and college, that will cease operations in the wake...

Add Major League Baseball to the list of sports leagues, professional and college, that will cease operations in the wake of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak.

Following a Thursday afternoon conference call involving owners, the league has decided to suspend spring training indefinitely (effective at 4 p.m. Thursday) and delay the start of the regular season by at least two weeks.

The Pirates were supposed to open March 26 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Teams may continue to work out, though it’s unknown at this point whether that will happen or how, if it all, it may apply to the Pirates.

As news trickled out on social media, the Pirates continued to play the Blue Jays at LECOM Park, with no mention made of the cancellation.

Before the game, many Pirates players discussed the uncertainty surrounding the entire situation, how they were simply awaiting word on what might happen next.

“We’re just wondering what will happen in the future,” Josh Bell said. “We have the season looming off in the distance. That’s kind of just a big question mark right now. We’ll let the higher ups make that decision. Until then, we’re going to work our tails off trying to get better.”

That hasn’t been easy, Chris Archer said. Whether it’s relatives or stadium workers or whomever, it’s impossible to not think about what has become a pandemic and the potential role players might have in spreading it.

“We’re trying to do our best to stay focused on baseball,” Archer said, “but it’s almost impossible.”

A big reason has how wildly COVID-19 has spread and how it’s seemingly only getting worse, with older people most at-risk.

“We know that it doesn’t affect younger people as much, but we all have parents,” Archer added. “We all have people who are elders that we come in contact with every day. The last thing we want to do is be a carrier and cause something fatal.”

Even though we’re all probably guilty of thinking about these guys as robots from time to time, every one of them has been impacted on a personal level.

Bell’s girlfriend won’t attend college classes until April and will go to school online. His parents, Earnest and Myrtle, were here earlier this spring but now can’t return. Derek Holland had his parents here over the weekend, and he’s supposed to welcome his fiancee and her folks in a couple days.

Now, that might not happen.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Holland said. “Flights could get canceled. States are declaring a state of emergency. You don’t know what’s going to take place. It’s a scary thing, but you have to try and keep a positive mindset. Don’t let it consume you.”

And also, no matter whether you play professional baseball or not, wash your hands. Jarrod Dyson said that’s been the biggest focal point among players, in addition to cutting off autographs.

“Even though we love to sign autographs and we don’t want to be that guy who gets looked at as a bad person [for not signing], it’s for everyone’s health,” Dyson said. “I know the autographs mean a lot, but they have to understand that the virus is going around. We’re just trying to make sure that everybody is safe.”

Seeing the NBA suspend its season Wednesday night “moved the needle,” Bell said, but he said the spread of the coronavirus was already very much on players’ radar, the topic of conversations in the cafeteria and away from the baseball field.

“There are conversations going on in the clubhouse, the cafeteria, in the cages,” Bell said. “But once we get on the field, everything is going back to baseball. We’re focusing on the game.

“We’ll see what happens next.”

By Jason Mackey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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