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Washington governor to ban large gatherings — Mariners games included

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Washington governor Jay Inslee is expected to take a drastic step in combatting the spread of the coronavirus: an order restricting gatherings of more than 250 people in three counties, including King County, where the Seattle Mariners play.

The move, which will be announced at a news conference later today, is aimed at sporting event and concerts, comes on the heels of the state declaring a state of emergency in the wake of the identification of at least 267 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across 10 Washington counties with no fewer than 24 related deaths. King County alone has had 190 of those cases and 22 fatalities.

Last night Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported that Major League Baseball is making contingency plans which could include having the Mariners remain at their spring training complex in Peoria Arizona and playing their opening homestand there. At present they are scheduled to open up in Seattle with a four-game series against the Ranges from March 26-March 29 and then host the Twins in a three-game set from March 30 through April 1 before going on the road to Kansas City.

Whether such alterations to the Major League schedule can be limited to that is questionable, however, as the spread of COVID-19 continues, which will likely cause public officials to impose further restrictions on public gatherings to combat the epidemic.

Just yesterday, the Mid American Conference and the Big West Conference announced yesterday that their basketball tournaments will be closed to fans and played in empty arenas. The Ivy League has cancelled its tournament in its entirety. The University of Cincinnati has canceled its annual spring football game. As we have noted in recent days, both the Japanese and Korean major leagues have postponed the beginning of their baseball seasons. There will no doubt be more such cancellations or alterations to come.

It seems impossible for Major League Baseball to remain unaffected beyond just Seattle. Both because of the actual spread of the outbreak and the recommendation of public health officials, and because of mounting public pressure. Just yesterday, for example, California governor Gavin Newsom openly criticized Major League Baseball, the NHL, the NBA and Major League Soccer for instituting measures in response to COVID-19 that seek to protect players but do not take fans into account in any way. In this he’s referring to the joint plan limiting media access to players, announced on Monday.

In April of 2015, the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox played a game in an empty Camden Yards due to civil unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. It would not surprise me if, in the near future, we see more examples of that — or more moves to spring training locations or, possibly, complete cancellations of games — due what public health experts expect to be an epidemic that gets worse in the United States before it gets better.

UPDATE: The Mariners have issued a statement:

Japanese Baseball to begin June 19

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Japanese League commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that Japan’s professional baseball season will open on June 19. Teams can being practice games on June 2. There will be no fans. Indeed, the league has not yet even begun to seriously discuss a plan for fans to begin attending games, though that may happen eventually.

The season will begin three months after its originally scheduled opening day of March 20. It will be 120 games long. Teams in each six-team league — the Central League and Pacific League — will play 24 games against each league opponent. There will be no interleague play and no all-star game.

The announcement came in the wake of a national state of emergency being lifted for both Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido. The rest of the country emerged from the state of emergency earlier this month. This will allow the Japanese leagues to follow leagues in South Korea and Taiwan which have been playing for several weeks.

In the United States, Major League Baseball is hoping to resume spring training in mid June before launching a shortened regular season in early July. That plan is contingent on the league and the players’ union coming to an agreement on both financial arrangements and safety protocols for a 2020 season. Negotiations on both are ongoing. Major League Baseball will, reportedly, make a formal proposal about player compensation tomorrow.