The Orioles will be allowed to start their planned training camp at Oriole Park at Camden Yards next week, with outdoor sporting events allowed under both the state and city’s reopening plans.
Discussions are ongoing, however, as to whether fans might be allowed to attend games at any point in the 2020 season, Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said.
In the current phases of reopening for the state of Maryland and Baltimore City, sporting events are allowed to be held outdoors but with no spectators. That is not changed by Friday’s announcement that the city is allowing some outdoor gatherings but still prohibiting stadium events and other large gatherings that require city permits, said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
The Orioles did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the team has a lease for Camden Yards to hold games there, Hogan said last month that the decision for sports to return in Maryland ultimately rests with him.
In a May ESPN article on the return of sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hogan noted that the state owns Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium through the Maryland Stadium Authority. Thus, he is “the largest sports landlord here in our region” and would have the final say on sports restarting in Baltimore, Hogan told ESPN.
MLB’s plan calls for players to report to their respective teams July 1 and begin a three-week training period July 3 ahead of an expected Opening Day on July 23 or 24. With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in Florida, those MLB teams who had players training there shut down their facilities, and the expectation is that all will use their home stadiums for the preseason workouts.
According to an Associated Press summary of the return-to-play manual, those workouts will begin with pitchers and catchers in recommended groups of five or fewer before full-team workouts begin in phase two, although those are recommended to be in smaller groups if possible.
The outdoor stadium bullpens with two mounds apiece, plus the game mound, will allow three pitchers to throw from a mound at a given time at Camden Yards in those small groups. Schedules will have to be worked out for when players can be in the weight room and indoor spaces, and once the full team arrives, finding time for position players to hit on the field while pitchers also get their work in will be a puzzle that the coaching staff will have to piece together.
In indoor spaces, there will be social distancing rules applied to the clubhouse and dugout, with accommodations made to prevent players from needing to congregate in areas like dining rooms and video and meetings rooms.
Baltimore City enacted many of the changes put forth in the second phase of the state’s reopening plan last week. The city allows for sports gatherings to resume at 50% indoor capacity and 100% outdoor capacity, presumably clearing the way for the Orioles to work out within city limits.
The events are not to be open to the general public, according to the city’s plan, and social distancing must be maintained while indoors, with face coverings worn when possible.
Baseball’s return was delayed after negotiations between the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association became protracted as owners insisted players should take less than their mutually-agreed-upon, per-game salary to cover potential losses in the likelihood of fans not being allowed at games.
Since MLB imposed the 60-game season, several teams, including the two in Texas, have explored the possibility of having fans at their games anyway.
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For that to happen with the Orioles, both the city and state would have to move on to different phases of their reopening plans. Through Friday, the state posted its first seven-day stretch of below 5% positive test rate for COVID-19 as hospitalizations reached their lowest point since April.