The Phillies were just two weeks away from the earliest opening day in franchise history when the season was delayed last week because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, they could be starting their season just a month before baseball originally planned to hold the All-Star Game.
So much for an early start.
It is becoming increasingly likely that baseball will have to wait until June for opening day, especially after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday night that all events of 50 or more people should be canceled for the next eight weeks.
“The opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance,” MLB said Monday in a statement.
“MLB will keep fans updated on decisions regarding plans for the 2020 schedule in the days and weeks ahead. The Clubs remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins.
"We will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts, and urge all baseball fans to follow suit. MLB extends its best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by the coronavirus.”
The Phillies closed their offices at Citizens Bank Park on Monday morning, and their employees worked remotely. The team provided email addresses for fans to contact if they had questions about season tickets (email@example.com), group tickets (firstname.lastname@example.org), or single-game/spring training tickets (email@example.com).
Eight weeks would allow spring training to resume May 11. If so, MLB could then hold a three-week camp before beginning the season.
Some Phillies players are still in Clearwater, Fla., and were training together over the weekend at the team facility. But they will likely be sent home this week as MLB wants to enforce social distancing.
“The way that we typically proceed is we work backward from a target date,” general manager Matt Klentak said Saturday. “So if March 26 was the original target date, we work backward knowing pitchers need to throw the appropriate number of innings and hitters need the appropriate number of at-bats to be ready.
"The challenge now is we have a moving target. The best advice we can give players is stay in general baseball shape but remain flexible because we don’t know when we might resume.”
A three-week camp is how baseball prepared for the 1995 season, which was delayed by the players’ strike that canceled the previous season’s World Series. The owners and players settled on the eve of the originally scheduled opening day in 1995, and the Phillies started spring training April 3. The season opened April 26.
Once baseball is cleared to restart this year, the teams could require a similar amount of time to get ready.
“I don’t want to talk as the resident know-it-all on the best way to handle this,” pitching coach Bryan Price said Friday. “We don’t even have an opening-day date set. The season’s pushed back two weeks? We don’t know that. We’re pushed back and optimistically we’re two weeks behind schedule, Is that realistic? I don’t have any idea.
"So if it’s more like a May 1, a June 1, a July 1, I’ll be answering this question probably many, many times in the days to follow or weeks to follow.
"Right now, we don’t know what the recipe is because we really don’t have an opening day. Once we have an opening day, we’ll have a better understanding of what we’re going to need to do. But at this point in time, we’re going to keep the guys in shape until we have a little bit more of a resolution with this.”
Once the season begins, the Phillies should be healthier than they were projected to be on March 26 in Miami. Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter should be in the bullpen, and Andrew McCutchen should be playing left field.
All three were expected to open the season on the injured list, with the Phillies hoping that they would return by the middle of April.
There’s also the likelihood that the Phillies will be playing with a larger roster. In 1990, baseball added two extra roster spots for the first three weeks after a lockout delayed spring training until late March. In 1995, baseball added three extra spots.
“I was on the Rockies that year , and all I remember is we opened Coors Field that year and it was freezing,” said Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who no longer has to worry about a cold opening day in 2020.