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Drayer: Reality sets in as MLB season now appears months away

The MLB season seems likely to be postponed for far more than two weeks. (AP)

Update, 10:30 a.m. Monday: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league will not start the season on April 9, and while there is hope to still play a 162-game schedule, he’s unsure how.

Original story:

When it was announced Thursday that most in the Mariners’ major league camp would continue work at their spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz., waiting to get the go-ahead to prepare for the postponed start of the season, it hinted at some sort of closure or clarity in the midst of a turbulent week in the sports world. Unfortunately that closure and clarity appeared to arrive Sunday, and it is not what they expected 48 hours ago.

Checking In: Progress of Mariners’ top prospects in spring training, part 2

To recap the light-speed changes that we have seen in less than an week, on Wednesday we learned that large gatherings would be banned in Washington state through at least the end of March and that the Mariners’ opening series would not be played at T-Mobile Park. Thursday brought the news that MLB was delaying the start of the 2020 season by at least two weeks, although at the time Mariners CEO John Stanton warned that the delay was likely to be longer. Major league players left the facility quickly after the news with a meeting scheduled for 9:30 am Friday to learn further details about what the plan going forward would be. Later Thursday night, the media was notified that they would not be allowed back in the complex until Monday.

Friday morning, the 9:30 meeting took place with the Mariners being told that MLB and the MLBPA were working on a plan for what would come next and that they should have information by the end of the weekend. Less than two hours later they were called back for a second meeting and given some pretty broad options. They could go home, they could go to their team’s home city or they could stay in their spring training cities and work out there. The Mariners sent the majority of their staff home and put together a plan that would allow smaller groups to come in for short workouts as they waited. Stanton, general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais were encouraged to see that the team wanted to stay together.

A memo obtained Sunday by the New York Post and The Athletic indicates this will not happen after all.

Another day, another change. MLB will not allow teams to hold organized workouts at their spring training complexes. The facilities will remain open to the players but they were encouraged to go home indicating that MLB and the MLBPA were not anticipating the season starting any time soon. Later Sunday, a recommendation from the CDC that all in-person events of 50 or more people should be postponed for the next eight weeks slammed the new reality home.

We are most likely not looking at the baseball season starting until late May, early June at the earliest. With large crowd bans through late April or early May already in place in multiple cities, this shouldn’t be a surprise. What we are expecting to see next, according to two Major League sources, is the majority of the players taking the recommendation from the league and heading home.

In four short days we have gone from the manageable – opening day pushed back two weeks, still allowing for a 162-game season – to the 2020 season taking on a very different shape. Obviously the schedule will have to be scrapped. Assuming the league can start June 1, how far into the fall or winter would you push the season? One thing we do know is that with the long layoff, some sort of spring training would be necessary and to that end. I have heard that MLB is looking at a 2 1/2 to three-week get-ready period with the teams returning to their spring homes to do that. Would spring workouts or games fall into the 50 or more people gathering that they are trying to discourage? Fans in the stands surely would.

On that note, while initially it appeared that playing in empty stadiums was the last thing anyone wanted, now facing two months without baseball you begin to think that option is looking better than no baseball at all. There would be much to be worked out and travel would still be a concern, but baseball in some form could be a much-needed distraction.

For now the players will head home to do what the rest of us are currently doing – wait to see what happens next. For now, a bit of closure in knowing that it will be some time before actual building for the season begins.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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