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MLB And Players In Talks About Beginning Baseball Season

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Right now we should be 12 days and more than a hundred games into the Major League Baseball season. But a normal baseball season involves all sorts of things that are not advisable during a pandemic - teams flying all over the country, thousands of fans packed tightly into stadiums, to name just a couple - which means opening day has been postponed indefinitely. Well, now ESPN is reporting that the league is in talks with the players union about returning as soon as May or June, though it would look and operate quite differently from normal. Jeff Passan reports on baseball for ESPN. He joins us now.

Hey, Jeff.

JEFF PASSAN: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So walk us through the basics. This would all happen in Arizona. What exactly is the setup here?

PASSAN: It would. And the idea is to create a biosphere, essentially, in which players go from hotel to ballpark, ballpark to hotel, and you essentially have an economy around them that creates food and that takes care of laundry and helps out with lodging. And during the time you're at the ballpark, baseball is played in front of no fans.

KELLY: OK, so stay with that - baseball is played - because I'm trying to think through how that works. How do you stay six feet apart from somebody when you're trying to tag them out, for example?

PASSAN: Yeah, it's really interesting because the people who have been pushing this plan maybe the hardest are health officials and the federal government who think baseball coming back would work because it's a sport that, in some ways, naturally socially distances. You have room in between the players. You know, the shortstop and the second baseman tend to be 30 or 40 feet apart. While there are plays where players do come into contact with one another, the contact is much less than in other sports.

KELLY: Just take us through a couple of the other little tweaks that they are making to try to make this feasible. I was reading in your column that they are implementing an electronic strike zone that would keep the plate umpire sufficiently distanced from the catcher and batter. What else?

PASSAN: You know, these are all subject to talks because this is in its nascent stages right now. All of this is subject to buy-in from the players. And considering that this could go on not just for the next month or two but all the way, potentially, through October, players would conceivably have to commit to being away from their families for months at a time.

KELLY: Yeah.

PASSAN: And there are disparate opinions that I've heard from players already, some saying, let's play; let's get paid. And you have the older players who would give up their salary this year to spend time with their family and children right now. And ultimately, it's going to be really interesting to see if this reaches the point where the players do have to vote on this. And if that vote goes forward, how many players just say, I'm not playing this year?

KELLY: Yeah. Now, I have to ask, even if players are not going anywhere besides back and forth from the hotel to practice and games, this will pose an increased risk of transmission. Does the league have a plan if a player or a staff member tests positive?

PASSAN: I think the plan, at this point, is dependent on robust testing being available because it's not just the population, Mary Louise, of players who are in their 20s and 30s and are fit and are...

KELLY: Yeah.

PASSAN: ...Unlikely to show symptoms from COVID-19. It's coaches. It's the training staff. It's hotel personnel who they worry about. And so if one person gets it, I believe the idea would be that they are going to have such a strong system in place that may not derail the entire thing. But seeing that in practical form - I just don't know at this point. And I think that's a question that they need to have a really good answer to before they do something like this.

KELLY: That is ESPN's Jeff Passan. You can find his reporting on ESPN and the ESPN Daily podcast.

Thank you, Jeff.

PASSAN: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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