Major League Baseball’s summer version of spring training is off to a rocky start with conflicting messages for a sport trying to restart during a pandemic.
On Monday, the fourth day of training, the inefficient return of the players’ coronavirus test results brought new questions about whether baseball can get its 60-game season off the ground.
Also on Monday, Major League Baseball announced the schedule for a 60-game season that reduces travel by keeping American League East, West and Central teams in their geographic regions and playing their counterparts from the National League divisions. A 10-team postseason is scheduled in October.
Big-name players are opting out of playing, including the Dodgers’ David Price, the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman and the Braves’ Nick Markakis. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman tested positive for the coronavirus and the Braves aren’t sure when he will play.
Others - such as the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Angels’ Mike Trout - are thinking about not playing. And, if the testing and safety issues don’t get worked out, there could be more players deciding the game isn’t worth the risk.
Commissioner Rob Manfred says the testing problems will be fixed.
But what happens in the pandemic continues to spike and more players decide not to play? Who decides when enough is enough?
The agreement between the players and owners says it will be up to Manfred to suspend or cancel the season. The agreement says Manfred can halt the season if travel restrictions get worse, there’s a change in circumstances that could cause unreasonable health or, if players continued to opt out, and there is a question about schedule integrity.
The flip side to all of that is the MLB schedule, released Monday. Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy items from the shortest baseball season since 1878:
* The Blue Jays aren’t sure if they will play their home games in Toronto. The Canadian government has given them permission to hold training camp at Rogers Centre, but the team is waiting for the go-ahead to play their 30 home games in Toronto.
* The AL East title will likely be decided in August. The Rays and Yankees, the two favorites in the division, will play 10 games against each other between Aug. 6 and Sept. 2.
* The Rangers will open their new ballpark, Globe Life Field, July 24 against the Rockies in the start of a three-game series. The Rangers will play two more against Arizona at home before hitting the road. The Rangers will host two practice games during training camp.
* The Twins and Indians, teams expected to contend for the AL Central crown, will play 10 games against each other with two of the series in Minnesota. If this race goes down to the wire, the Twins’ final five games are at home against the Tigers and Reds. Cleveland plays at home against the White Sox and Pirates.
* The Astros the biggest story in baseball because of sign stealing before the coronavirus pandemic emerged, will play the Dodgers in Los Angeles from Sept. 12-13. The Astros and Dodgers played in the 2017 World Series and the Dodgers think their first title since 1988 was stolen by the Astros’ shenanigans. As of now, there no fans will be allowed in the ballpark, but could that change?
* The Astros will also have three series against the Athletics, two in August and one in September. Oakland pitcher Mike Fiers was the whistleblower that brought the Astros’ sign-stealing accusations to light and started the MLB investigation.
* If the Angels stick to their plan to let Shohei Ohtani, the modern-day pitching-hitting version of Babe Ruth, pitch only on Sundays, then his first game pitching will be July 26 against Oakland. Ohtani is coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery and hasn’t pitched since the 2018 season.
* Last season, the Cardinals beat the wild card Brewers by two games to win the NL Central. This year, those two teams play seven games in the final two weeks, three in Milwaukee and four-game series in St. Louis to conclude the season.
* MLB will have special days to honor its history. The 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, will be honored Aug. 16. Jackie Robinson will be recognized Aug. 28 and Roberto Clemente on Sept 9.
* There’s a new leader for teams in the miles-traveled department this season. Usually, that honors belongs to the Mariners, because they are in the northwest corner of the country. This year, according to NBC Sports Bay Area, the Rangers will travel the most miles (14,706) while the other Texas team, the Astros, will travel the second-most, 13,954.
* The game between the White Sox and Cardinals at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, will be played. A stadium seating 8,000 fans is at the site where the 1989 movie Field of Dreams was made, but MLB hasn’t decided if fans will attend. The game was supposed to be between the White Sox and Yankees, but the Cardinals replaced the Yankees because of the scheduling format.
* Pitcher Madison Bumgarner, a World Series hero for the Giants, and now with the Diamondbacks, will be in the opposing dugout when Arizona visits San Francisco from Aug. 21-23.