MLB is so keen to figure out a way to start a 2020 season that it is rolling out flawed ideas like they’re going out of style. My response? Hey, at least they’re talking. From flawed ideas sometimes come workable concepts, and from workable concepts could come that highly anticipated first pitch.
The “first pitch” (of the sales variety) that was leaked to the public involved all 30 teams playing in Arizona. A more recent pitch was the idea that perhaps Arizona and Florida could house its customary spring training teams and play games with reimagined divisions that would have the A’s battling the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants for the ... um ... Cactus Northeast Division? (“Northeast“ in what way, exactly?)
One venue that has not, as far as I know, been publicly considered is the A’s own backyard: the Bay Area. But I’m not being a “homer” to raise the question — sure I live in the east bay and root for the A’s, but it’s not as if it is really going to matter to fans where teams play if we can only access them via TV anyway.
No, my analysis here comes not from homerism but rather from recognizing that the Bay Area has some qualities that Arizona and Florida do not offer. So if MLB concludes it cannot house all its teams in one region, the Bay Area could come into play as a potential venue.
Why The Bay Area?
One thing the Bay Area has over Florida is its position relative to the corona virus. The Bay Area, and California in general, were hit hard early. However, because California was one of the first regions to begin sheltering-in-place, its projected timelines for “flattening the curve” and becoming a relatively safe place to be, are ahead of most of states — in particular Florida, which is on a projected course that peaks far later, and stabilizes far later, than California.
Within California, the Bay Area is in even a better position because 6 key counties began shelter-in-place orders a week before even California officially acted. As we have learned during this crash course in Pandemics 101, a week is a long time in the world of exponential growth. The short version to all this being that the Bay Area has a chance to be one of the earlier regions in the country to be a good place to take a gamble on community health.
Now you might say this does not matter because any baseball season will be predicated upon the assumption that all players, and related personnel, will have to be fully sequestered from the rest of the population anyway. This might be a goal, but you have to think there are going to be some people who come into contact with people who come into contact with players, who will go home to their families, and whom you hope are uninfected. Ultimately, this is about playing the odds and your odds are simply better in a community “mostly absent” the virus than in a community in which the virus is still strongly seen.
The Bay Area also offers another important quality and that is its good climate. The Arizona summer weather might not be a “deal breaker” in the scheme of things, but you can’t be too jazzed about the idea of forcing 30 teams to be housed where temperatures routinely reach 100 degrees. As unenviable as summers in Arizona are, summers in the Bay Area are sublime.
So while others debate the merits of sweltering in Arizona or running into the teeth of a pandemic in Florida, let’s see if the Bay Area is equipped to play host to major league baseball in a fanless environment.
How Would It Work?
Unfortunately, if the question is “Could the Bay Area” host all 30 teams I think the answer is “No.” I thought about double-headers at every venue (e.g., Cubs-Giants at noon, A’s-Twins at 7:00pm), in which case 8 venues could feasibly house all 30 teams, but even if you had a “deep clean” turnaround in between games you would need every player literally to clean out his locker, every day, as if it were the final day of the season — the last thing you would do is to ask two players, from two different teams, to share a locker space — and this is not realistic.
So what that means is if the Bay Area were to be a viable venue, it could only be so for half the teams. For example, you could split the AL and NL into two different venues and eliminate interleague play (it’s a shortened schedule anyway). Perhaps leagues split “Arizona/Bay Area” would be more appealing than “Arizona/Florida,” partly because Florida is poised to be very late in the curve-flattening game and partly because the Arizona/Bay Area model allows you more naturally to preserve an AL schedule and an NL schedule, AL and NL divisions as we know them, and more of a legitimate season. (Seriously: have you spent the past 6 months gearing up for the A’s to try to beat the Chicago Cubs for the division?)
It also makes interleague play at least possible if you wanted to have teams occasionally fly (just 2 hours between Arizona and Bay Area) for an interleague series — the alternative, given that there are 15 teams in each league, is to have 7 games each day with one team off, which doesn’t pack the schedule as much but is probably more realistic.
Could The Bay Area House Enough Teams?
Now to the essential question: can the Bay Area accommodate half the teams? You need 7-8 venues (depending on how you resolve the issue of having 15 teams), in which two teams share each venue (as is customary throughout much of the Cactus League). The venues have to be suitable for baseball and they need to be sufficiently proximate to one another, just as the Cactus League ballparks are in a “cluster”.
In Arizona, if you are talking strictly about the Cactus League, teams are all clustered within 1 hour of each other (the drive from Mesa to Surprise is roughly 55 minutes). If you were to add Tucson into the mix, as you would have to in order to host all 30 teams, the spread grows to a little over 2 hours.
Here are the venues I have thought of for a possible Bay Area cluster. Almost identical to Arizona, they are clustered mostly within 1 hour but with the outliers closer to 2 hours apart from each other. In alphabetical order:
Modesto (single-A park)
Oakland (major league park)
Sacramento (AAA park)
San Francisco (major league park)
San Jose (single-A park)
Stockton (single-A park)
other possible venues if needed: Cal (college), St. Mary’s (college)
Is It Worth It?
The cons? Summer temperatures aren’t exactly mild in Modesto, Stockton, or Sacramento, so perhaps it’s not a big enough win over the simplicity of housing all teams throughout Arizona. The pros? Steering clear of Florida, accessing some better ballparks and some better weather, and being able to maintain divisions and leagues as we know them.
Overall, I’m not promoting this, just adding it to the conversation. No matter what, if the A’s play this year they figure to be a lot more than 6 feet away from me.