Sarasota, Florida — A day into the shutdown of spring training and delay of the Major League Baseball season caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the fluid nature of how the Orioles and the rest of the league will prepare for their eventual season was on full display.
Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias held a conference call at noon to outline the team’s plan, stressing they were operating on a day-to-day basis but that a full cleaning of their closed major league and minor league complexes Friday would be followed by players returning to camp, as was the team’s preference.
The Orioles, he said at the time, were “very intent on keeping everyone here until told otherwise.” That was the guidance from the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association as well.
But a league-wide call a few hours later changed that and both major league and minor league players were sent home by teams, which seems to signal that the two-week delay in the regular season beginning might extend beyond that.
In a fast-moving situation, Elias and the Orioles’ plans were changed from above, leaving only the reality that it’s unclear whether a two-week delay in start of the regular season was all that was in store.
“We can only start playing baseball when we can start playing baseball, and there’s only so much that we can control," Elias said on the conference call. “I think so much of our economy and society is being disrupted by this, and none of it is ideal, and we’ve just got to deal with it.”
Elias said no one in the organization has been tested for COVID-19, nor has anyone presented symptoms. He also praised how prepared and nimble the organization had been “very proactive on making sure that we have the right approach, the right protocols, with the health and safety of our players and the staff members and the community around our camp being the main priority right now.”
But a more widely held understanding of the scope of the pandemic meant baseball had to address things quickly, and the league reversed course on its orders from the previous day for players to stay where they are.
The machinations that went into the first day of the shutdown mirrored the uncertainty that met the previous day, especially for the Orioles.
The Orioles were on the bus leaving for a spring training game Thursday afternoon only to drive around the block and come back to the Ed Smith Stadium complex because of the uncertainty over a shutdown that eventually was imposed a few hours later.
“This has happened really fast for everybody,” Elias said on the call. “Just yesterday, we were loading up on a bus to go to Fort Myers, and all of a sudden, we weren’t.”
Union player representative Chris Davis said Thursday there was a lot of uncertainty about the plans for players, who have already been at camp for at least a month and were staring down the possibility of at least another month there, complicating family, schooling and housing plans.
The Orioles’ complexes will be partially staffed and operational for players who either need or want to stay, but otherwise, the 54 players in major league camp and the approximately 150 players at minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park will disperse.
Presumably, the players will need to return for an abbreviated spring training to re-start preparations for the season. Sending them home after the league so strongly wanted to keep them where they were to prevent unnecessary travel suggests that may not be soon.
With amateur baseball also affected, Elias said the team’s scout travel “has dramatically slowed and been reduced,” simply by a lack of games to go to, and MLB was monitoring that situation to determine if the June draft should be changed.
There was still no word from MLB as to what the change in Opening Day means for date-based contract language, or if or when the Orioles can send players out of major league camp, Elias said.
In the early afternoon, he could only work with what information the league had given the teams. But most of it came with an understanding that the delayed Opening Day, originally set for March 26 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, would now be no earlier than April 9.
“I think we are all poised for the possibility of changes to that,” Elias said.