SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles boarded two charter buses this afternoon that pulled out of the Ed Smith Stadium complex, bound for Fort Myers and tonight’s game against the Twins.
They were back after a couple of minutes, circling the perimeter and dropping off manager Brandon Hyde, his staff and his players.
Hyde stepped off one of the buses and was on his phone as others filed back inside the baseball operations building. The Orioles appeared to be done playing exhibition games, though the schedule showed 15 remaining.
Whether that’s actually the case is unknown.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said he hasn’t received official word on whether Major League Baseball is cancelling the remainder of the exhibition games and pushing back the start of the regular season due to the coronavirus.
“There is a lot of work going into making decisions on next steps right now in the league office, and certainly we’re going to be in very fast communication with them, whatever those next steps may be,” Elias said. “But given that there talking about next steps, we decided to delay our departure to Fort Myers until we hear more.”
The buses sat empty while outfielders performed drills on the Camden Yards replica field, pitchers threw in the bullpen and other players ran sprints - including Wade LeBlanc, Ty Blach, Miguel Castro and Hector Velázquez.
The game could be played tonight, which is why pitchers listed as available aren’t throwing at the complex. Ellicott City native Bruce Zimmermann is supposed to start against the Twins, with Bleier, Shawn Armstrong, Paul Fry, Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser among the relievers.
“Until we’re told otherwise, we’re continuing to prepare as if there’s a game tonight,” Elias said, “but we decided to just leave later and we’ll see what happens in the meantime.”
Whether it’s the final game or if it actually transpires.
“I don’t know anything about finality, but in delaying our departure we’re bracing for the possibility that tonight’s game is not played,” Elias said.
The NBA, NHL and MLS have suspended operations, and Duke University and the University of Kansas have issued statements that indicate they won’t participate in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, major league teams are playing exhibition games this afternoon while the Orioles wait for more answers. MLB is expected to follow the other major sports and end spring training.
Later today, Friday, at some point.
“Whatever Major League Baseball decides to do I think is what we should do, because they’re hearing from a lot of experts and putting a lot of work into this,” Elias said.
“I’m definitely eager to hear what their decisions and recommendations are, but ultimately I’ve got to think that steps like these that have been taken are going to be for the best.”
Update: MLB has announced that it’s suspending spring training beginning 4 p.m. today and pushing back the start of the regular season by at least two weeks.
The Orioles must decide whether to keep players in camp and how they’re adjusting their preparation for the season.
Here’s the entire statement:
“Following a call with the 30 Clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic. This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.
“MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days. As of 4:00 p.m. (ET) today, forthcoming Spring Training games have been cancelled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Arizona have been postponed indefinitely.
“MLB and the Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule. MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.
“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans. MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.”