ST. PAUL — Baseball wants you in the seats this summer, and a handful of states had put themselves in position to open their ballparks when the season starts sometime near the end of the month, most notably Florida, Arizona, Texas and Georgia.
By mid-May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey were openly courting pro sports teams that two months earlier had shut down their seasons as the novel coronavirus pandemic rapidly spread throughout the United States.
On May 12, Ducey put the welcome mat out, inspiring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to do the same on May 13. It worked for DeSantis; the NBA and WNBA will finish their schedules in the Sunshine State, and Major League Soccer is set to re-boot its season there starting next week.
Arizona didn’t reel in any big fish, but Ducey at least greased the skids for the Diamondbacks to open their gates when they reboot their season sometime during the last week in July. The same could be said for the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
“I think there are a handful of teams that have high hopes to have fans from the start,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said Monday. “We are not one of them.”
Maybe not for Opening Day, but fans shouldn’t give up just yet. Minnesota is in better shape to open its major league park than the Miami Marlins or Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a low bar, of course: The spread of coronavirus is so bad now in Arizona and Florida that President Trump’s re-election campaign on Monday canceled events there. So, you know, not so fast.
Frankly, it’s not great anywhere in the U.S. right now. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island have not reported spikes over the past week, and three major leaguers on Monday declared they would sit out the 2020 season: Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake, and Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross.
The Twins have no such issue, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said during a video conference call Monday. The team will test 131 players and staff members, he added, as it prepares to start what it’s calling “summer training” on Friday or Saturday. That depends mostly on when testing can be completed.
Minnesota has seen a spike in coronavirus cases since June 24, reporting 315 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Florida, where cases have surged since the state reopened bars, beaches and restaurants, reported 5,266. Last Friday, that number was nearly 9,000.
Gov. Tim Walz has been cautious about returning Minnesota to normal. He waited until June 24 to tell youth and amateur teams they can begin competing, along the way receiving criticism for all but killing summer soccer and softball seasons. But the state’s cases are trending downward even as its testing capacity has jumped to 20,000 a day. Additionally, daily corona-related deaths in Minnesota have been under 10 for most of the past two weeks.
St. Peter said the Twins are in regular contact with the governor’s office and representatives of the Minnesota Department of Health about when the team might be able to allow some fans into Target Field.
“It’s rooted in, first and foremost, the safety of our people — so, our players, staff, visiting team,” he said. “Then as you start to expand from that, what’s responsible?”
It appears some MLB teams will be playing in front of fans sooner rather than later. Whether that’s responsible in a state with the surging numbers of Florida or Arizona is up for debate.
“The goal here is to certainly try to get fans into ballparks. That’s what our game is all about; it’s been built on fans, right?” St. Peter said. “The tricky part is how do you do that in a safe environment? How do you do that in a responsible way relative to the broader community? I think that’s what we struggle with.
“All that being said, if there’s a path to do it and we think we can do it in a safe way that’s responsible, I expect we’ll try to proceed with that at some point in 2020.”