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MLB allows players to leave after canceling spring training

MLB players have been told they can return home amid the suspension of the season. (Getty)

By JAKE SEINER
AP MLB Writer

MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Major League Baseball (MLB) is allowing players to go home, a day after canceling the rest of the spring training schedule and postponing opening day by at least two weeks amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Related: Drayer: Mariners, like rest of MLB, adjusting to life in a holding pattern

After a meeting in Arizona on Friday that included baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, union head Tony Clark and their top aides, players were told they could remain at spring training, report to the team’s home city or go to their own home.

New York Yankees players decided as a group to remain at spring training camp in Tampa, Florida.

MLB announced Thursday that the season would be delayed at least two weeks from its scheduled start on March 26. Teams speculated the season might not start until sometime in May, necessitating a reduced schedule.

MLB and the union discussed the need for likely two-to-four weeks of workouts ahead of openers once the date for the season’s start has been set. They also talked about the possible need to extend the regular season past its scheduled end on Sept. 27, tacking some or all postponed games onto the original end of the season.

Ballparks in Florida and Arizona were locked down as the sport considered how to proceed following an outbreak that has brought the U.S. sports schedule to a standstill.

“We don’t have a playbook for this,” Cleveland Indians president Chris Antonetti said in the morning. “We are learning on the fly. We are taking the approach that we will continue to prioritize the health and wellness of our players, our staff, their families, everyone at the complex, everyone throughout the organization. That is evolving day to day.”

The dispersal is not mandatory. In particular, many minor league players — especially from other countries — have been hoping to remain in camps, where they have usually access to housing, food and training facilities.

“This may be the best option for them,” Red Sox executive Chaim Bloom said. “And we want to make sure that is a good option, but also that they have the ability to go other places if they want to.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus within a few weeks.

MLB has recommended scouts should not make non-essential travel, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league has not announced those plans.

“There’s obviously there’s no games to be played right now, so our amateur scouts are in a holding pattern at this point,” Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said.

The NBA suspended its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the virus, and it wasn’t a surprise to players when MLB followed with a similar move Thursday.

Not that it wasn’t bizarre. Jon Lester was long-tossing in Cubs camp in the moments before the announcement was made, and Mariners’ coaches pulled pitchers off bullpen mounds mid-session to break the news.

“Yesterday was one of the craziest days I’ve ever had in baseball,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I went through the (1994-95) strike as player, and I can only compare it to that.”

Like other teams, Boston planned to close its spring complex in Fort Myers, Florida, through the weekend for a deep cleaning of the entire facility. CEO Sam Kennedy said the club has not had a known positive test among players, personnel or fans who have attended games, but it was preparing for such a situation.

“There feels like a sense of inevitability” about a diagnosis, he said.

Players usually get paid only during the regular season, and the delay could become especially burdensome for minor leaguers who live paycheck to paycheck. Tampa Bay minor league pitcher Peter Bayer tweeted Thursday night that he had taken a food-delivery job, given the uncertainty around his next baseball paycheck.

“Who knows what’s going to happen with the MILB/pay,” he wrote. “So I decided to start driving with Door Dash tonight. $62 in 3 hours… not too bad.”

A day after finishing a week-long drive from Chicago, diehard fan Elaine Maddox stood outside the Cubs spring training complex Friday morning, gazing through locked gates at an empty, sun-soaked field.

“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “Spent all that money and everything, coming all the way out here. But I guess it’s better than being sick.”

She said she supported MLB’s decision to suspend play — disappointed though she was to have driven across the country with her husband, Loren, only to be locked out of Sloan Park in Mesa.

“Wasn’t exactly the memory we were hoping for,” Loren said. “But it will definitely be a memory.”

AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum, AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta and Andy Seligman and AP freelance writer Gary Schatz contributed to this report.

Related: Drayer: Inside Mariners’ day as they found out MLB will delay season