The Yankees have held spring training in a number of locations. There are a few that have served as the team’s opening camp for extended periods of time — St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale and their current residence in Tampa are the main three. They’ve also trained in a number of places around the country back in the early 1900s, like Houston, Atlanta or Jacksonville.
They’ve never had to start their season in the confides of their everyday stadium, however. The farthest the Yankees have gone north to begin spring training was Atlantic City in the final years of World War II. That tradition will have to be broken if there’s to be a 2020 season though, since a rise in COVID-19 outbreaks in Florida and cases in the Yankees facility, among others, have prompted MLB to shut down spring training facilities.
Most, if not all teams are now preparing to reopen their training at their home stadiums, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has already given the go-ahead for the Mets and Yankees to do just that. It’s bizarre enough to think about the teams beginning their seasons up north even in normal circumstances, but this summer rendition of spring training doesn’t have to worry about the cold at all. Instead, they’ll have a far greater concern hanging over their heads.
Grappling with how to safely start up training camps, let alone the season itself, in the midst of a pandemic is a task that no professional sports league in America has perfected yet. The NBA is working on situating their players inside a bubble zone in Orlando, but the NHL and NFL are currently working with the assumption that teams are going to be in their own spaces. While the NHL and NBA are trying to complete interrupted seasons, MLB has to have the longevity of several months ahead of them in mind when going through with this.
There would be some distinct advantages to starting in New York this year, namely avoiding the spike in COVID cases as mentioned. The state was one of the earliest epicenters of the virus, but has recently begun early stages of re-opening after months of lockdown have flattened the curve. Whether they’re prepared to maintain that once restrictions are lifted or not is another discussion, and there have been plenty of cases of other states re-opening too soon already.
On top of that, the players would be able to remain in the comfort of their homes while the reboot begins. The demands of living inside a “bubble” environment like the NBA is proposing, and like MLB briefly considered in their own start-up plans, is a costly one, and difficult to manage. That’s not to say it can’t be effective, because honestly no one knows just how safe any of these plans are right now, but the upkeep on baseball fields and other factors were going to make it more of a challenge for MLB to implement versus other leagues.
The latest player’s union proposal has spring training 2.0 beginning in just one week, around June 26-28, and running until the season start date on July 19. That’s a little more than three weeks of preparation, though it looks like the owners and players are still far apart on their respective proposals and an agreement may never come. Assuming the league will step in at some point and mandate a schedule, a plan should come in place eventually.
What appears most concerning is not the timeline to play, though. Rather, it’s the ability to track and maintain a healthy staff in general. A lot of time and energy has been spent on the discussions between players and owners and whose plan should be accepted in the end. Much less is known about what either side has prepared to keep players safe should a season be played, something that’s just now beginning to enter the conversation. In the meantime, several facilities have already had cases of positive tests.
It’s worrisome that so much has been put forward about the economics of the game, without a solid structure in place for the return once the money has been agreed to. This should have been the pressing issue throughout the past couple of months, but it seems like it’s going to be an issue to iron out after the fact. That’s not something you want to hear when the turnaround for getting players into camp is likely going to be very fast.