SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles’ spring training preparations will be cut short as Major League Baseball canceled spring training games, effective at 4 p.m. Thursday, and is delaying the start of the regular season for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a league announcement.
“MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule,” the league said in a statement. “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 healthy and safety of our players, employees, and fans.”
MLB said that teams will be instructed on what to do with workouts and daily operations in the coming days, with World Baseball Classic qualifying games canceled in the interim.
In response to MLB’s announcement, the Orioles released a statement supporting the decision.
“The health and safety of our players, fans, staff, and partners will always be our top priority," the statement said. “We will communicate additional details, including information about refunds, directly to fans when they become available, as this is a rapidly-evolving situation.”
Minor League Baseball also announced that they were delaying the start of their season.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who is the team’s representative to the Major League Baseball Players Association, said he was “pretty shocked," and said that the rapid succession of measures taken to protect fans, athletes, and those around all of the other major sports was “a lot to take in."
“I think there are so many questions that I have, and I know a bunch of guys have approached me with questions that I just don’t have answers to,” Davis said. “I think really in the next couple of days, hopefully we can get a little more clarity. Right now, it almost doesn’t seem real.”
Davis said his own personal preference was to stay at the team’s spring training complex in Sarasota, Florida, but that players were in a “holding pattern” as to whether they’d be sent home, asked to stay at team facilities to prepare for the season there, or be left to choose themselves.
“I think there’s some frustration with just how much is up in the air, really,” Davis said. “We just don’t really know what’s going to happen, but looking ahead, knowing now that the season’s going to be pushed back at least — at least two weeks — it just changes a lot of things for us. Guys with families, guys with plans to move out, or start packing up. It’s just going to change a lot of things. But obviously, it’s for the best of everybody involved. It’s just a weird situation, to be honest with you.”
Davis was one of many players who were caught up in the day’s confusion, even as the NBA’s decision to suspend its season Wednesday night and a full day of reporting on MLB’s plans to possibly suspend spring training made the outcome inevitable.
Without any word from the league, the Orioles had no real choice but to go on with their day as scheduled Thursday. In the late morning, presumptive major league rotation members Alex Cobb and Tommy Milone pitched simulated games to teammates DJ Stewart, Ryan Mountcastle, Chance Sisco and Renato Núñez on the back fields behind Ed Smith Stadium.
With nothing from Major League Baseball stopping them and a 90-minute drive to play the Minnesota Twins ahead of them before a scheduled evening game Thursday, the Orioles’ traveling party boarded their buses and left the facility, only to return and empty the buses back into the clubhouse. Davis was one of a handful of players who was going to drive himself to the game in Fort Myers, Florida, and was already on the highway before he got word to return.
All the while, the Orioles who weren’t scheduled to play in the game went right from a 12:30 p.m. team meeting to the practice fields, where they were playing catch and warming up as the buses pulled back in.
Executive vice president Mike Elias made a radio appearance on 105.7 The Fan at 2:15 p.m. as the teams waited for updates. At the time, Elias said season preparations and roster decisions were "a secondary concern right now to public safety and figuring out what and how is the best way to go forward.
“At some point, we’ll be back to business as usual,” Elias said. “But I think these are the measures that are taken so that this doesn’t get much worse than it has to be.”
Elias, asked about what it would mean for the team’s preparations for the season, said in the radio interview that it was “so much to process."
“I’m starting to think about it, and this all happened so fast," Elias said. "Assuming there is some type of interruption to the spring training schedule, we’re going to have to figure that out, and I think it’s going to depend on whatever details we have about what the regular season is going to look like in terms of how players should prepare. We’re definitely, once we hear something, if we do, we’re definitely going to pour a lot of thought and work into that. I’m sure there will be some suggestions and cooperation between the different sports teams. We just haven’t gotten the details yet, so it’s hard to really plan.”
The league’s action comes after they shut down access to clubhouses to non-essential personnel including the media, instituting a 6-foot buffer space for interactions and cutting off fan access for on-field interactions and autographs.
The Orioles were scheduled to host the New York Yankees on March 26 at 3:05 p.m. for Opening Day, and then the Boston Red Sox before making their first road trip with visits to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Yankees.
In addition to spring training games, the Orioles’ exhibition game against the New York Mets on March 24 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis has been canceled. The Orioles also announced that season plan members will be automatically refunded for game tickets and parking purchased for remaining games at Ed Smith Stadium, and fans who purchased tickets through Ticketmaster, Orioles.com, StubHub, or at the Ed Smith Stadium box office will automatically receive a refund to the credit card that was originally used for purchase.