April 7, 2020 / 3:58 PM / 2 months ago

MLB plays down talk of May return to action amid coronavirus

(Reuters) - Major League Baseball threw cold water on reports it is developing plans to restart play as early as May in an isolation bubble protected from the novel coronavirus outbreak, saying on Tuesday several options were being considered.

FILE PHOTO: Feb 27, 2020; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner throws to Cincinnati Reds Curt Casali in his Cactus League debut in the first inning on Feb. 27, 2020 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK/File Photo

As reports circulated that MLB was in the deep stages of a plan under which all 30 teams would come together in Arizona, playing games in empty stadiums, the league moved to downplay any idea it would return to action before it was safe to do so. The U.S. death toll due to the coronavirus on Tuesday approached 11,000, trailing only Spain and Italy. [nL1N2BU0KB]

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so,” MLB said in a statement. “While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.

“While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.”

Many of North America’s major sports leagues have been brainstorming scenarios in which they would return to action as soon as possible, even before the pandemic is completely under control.

The possible MLB plan, according to an ESPN report, had the support of high-ranking federal public health officials.

U.S. President Donald Trump told sports commissioners on Saturday he hoped their leagues and competitions, which have been suspended by the coronavirus outbreak, would soon be back in action.

“I want fans back in the arenas,” Trump said at the briefing. “Whenever we are ready. As soon as we can, obviously.”

The plan, which would call for all 30 teams to assemble in the Phoenix area with games played at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and surrounding Spring Training facilities, is fraught with challenges.

Players would be isolated in hotels, away from families perhaps for months, and only travel between their rooms and the stadium.

During games they could sit in the empty stands to maintain social-distancing guidelines.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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