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MLB to suspend operations amid coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

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Baseball joins sports and leagues around the globe in pausing play.

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted, and will continue to impact your daily lives for the foreseeable future. It has helped torpedo the stock market, as jitters surrounding our own health, travel, and work stoppages have become pervasive. Sports, obviously, were going to be put on hold eventually as we all try to sort through what we should and should not be attending in person, and that began in earnest weeks ago in other countries.

Last night, the NBA abruptly suspended all games after a surreal scene between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, one that resulted in Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell both testing positive for COVID-19. Today saw more dominoes fall, as college basketball tournaments across the country were almost all uniformly cancelled, while the NHL has also come to the decision to suspend operations, too.

Major League Baseball has found itself in a bit of an odd predicament, of course. While they’re still hosting large crowds that have obviously been identified as the kind of places where these outbreaks can spread quickly, they’re still doing so in exhibition fashion - meaning that while baseball operations have been ongoing, the ‘baseball season’ doesn’t yet start for two more weeks, meaning a few more contingencies have been kicked around in the decision-making process. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, this afternoon will wrap discussions on the plan going forward for baseball, but it is absolutely expected to include an immediate suspension of baseball operations going forward.

As Passan suggests, a delay to the start of the regular season is expected to be included, meaning in all likelihood the game between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals on March 26th will not go off as planned. We had heard last night that the Findlay Market Parade had been cancelled, too, meaning Opening Day in Cincinnati is going to indeed be completely different than it normally is, unfortunately.

My best guess is that we’ll see no more Grapefruit or Cactus League games. Odds are that the players will either be sent to their homes entirely or that clubs will return to their spring training homes, avoid travel, and simply work out together in their facilities as they bide time. Honestly, it will be interesting to hear from players if the latter decision is made, since while they certainly know all their teammates, that scenario would still involve them interacting in large numbers on a day to day basis, and that’s precisely the kind of thing these preventative measures are attempting to avoid.

If it’s effectively a cease and desist order from the top at MLB, that would obviously push back the timeline for when the real baseball season could start. For the same reason that normal spring trainings seemingly go on forever, it takes a lot of time for professional baseball players to fine-tune their skills and get their bodies ramped up for the grind of the long season, so even when MLB gives the go-ahead to resume things, it’ll take weeks before things can get going full steam. So, when the regular season will actually begin becomes quite the nebulous concept.

That all, of course, is through the sporting lens. Thousands of people worldwide have already succumbed to this particular virus, and preventing the spread of it to humans far less strong and healthy than professional athletes is the key to curbing its impact. Hopefully, baseball is playing an ample part in helping that process, but it is admittedly just a small part in this larger, global effort to help keep the most vulnerable of us out there as far away from infection as physically possible.

For now, we’re all going to get a good bit of a pause on our usual lives. This spring will have less baseball, no college basketball, and will feel a bit odd, no doubt. You are certainly entitled to feel sad, mad, frustrated, or whatever about that concept, but just do us all a favor if those are some of your visceral reactions to this stoppage - namely, try to put it all in some context, as on the scale of 1 to serious, it’s a problem that’s much closer to 1.

Baseball will be back at some point soon. Trust that. It’s just going to be a bit different this time around.