Crowd restrictions to impact Mariners' schedule
PEORIA, Ariz. -- With at least the first seven Mariners home games of the upcoming season affected by a restriction on large group events in the Seattle area, team chairman and CEO John Stanton said Wednesday he expects Major League Baseball and the involved teams to iron out exactly where the club will open its 2020 campaign in the next two to three days.
In response to the growing coronavirus concern, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday announced restrictions on gatherings of 250-plus people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties through March, noting the ban is “highly likely to be extended” beyond the end of the month. Seattle resides in King County.
The Mariners were scheduled to open the season at T-Mobile Park with a four-game series against the Rangers from March 26-29, followed by a three-game set with the Twins from March 30-April 1. The Mariners then head out on a seven-day road trip before their next homestand begins on April 9 vs. the Red Sox and Nationals.
Stanton said the primary options being considered are to have the Mariners remain in Arizona after Spring Training ends on March 24 and play those initial home games in the Phoenix area, most likely at the club’s Peoria Stadium, or to travel to Texas and Minnesota and be the “home team” in the visiting stadiums.
It’s also possible the games could be played in Seattle without any fans in attendance, though Stanton noted that option is less likely as the club prefers not to further disrupt the region as it deals with the health situation. It also does not want to expose players, staff and workers needed to help host the games to any undue risk.
“There are plusses and minuses associated with each alternative, and as I’ve learned in the last 48 hours, there are a number of parties who have a say in this,” said Stanton, who met with city of Peoria officials on Wednesday morning and has been in frequent contact over the past week with MLB and the MLB Players Association, as well as the other teams involved.
Additionally, in order to remain in Arizona for regular-season games, the Mariners would need the approval of the D-backs (who have home jurisdiction in the region), as well as the Padres (who share their Peoria facility).
But Stanton noted both the D-backs and Padres have been very cooperative and that option is “probably the least disruptive” since players, coaches and staff already are in Arizona and have housing and families in place.
Inslee’s restrictions were announced as Washington state officials work to control the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle area. It means that all major sports events, concerts and cultural gatherings in the Seattle area will be canceled for the time being as health officials look to limit the spread of the virus, which has resulted in 24 confirmed deaths and more than 250 diagnosed cases in Washington state as of Wednesday morning.
The Mariners issued a statement following Gov. Inslee's announcement:
"Following Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement this morning that he is banning large group events through March, the Seattle Mariners are working with the Major League Baseball Office of the Commissioner on alternative plans for our games that were scheduled for the end of March at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
"While we hope to be back to playing baseball in Seattle as soon as possible, the health and safety of our community is the most important consideration.
"We will provide more information about our plans for the games as it becomes available.
"Season ticket members, suite holders and group buyers will automatically receive a credit for tickets to unplayed games. The credit will be applied by March 19 and may be used to purchase tickets for any other 2020 regular-season home game.
"Single-game ticket holders who purchased tickets directly through the Seattle Mariners will be automatically refunded to the credit card, debit card, gift card or other method of payment used to make your purchase. Additional details will be communicated directly to purchasers via email by March 14."
While both the Rangers and Mariners are already in Arizona, the Rangers are scheduled to break camp on March 21 and head back to Arlington to play a pair of exhibition games to open their new Globe Life Field on March 23-24 before flying to Seattle. The Rangers issued a statement saying that they will be working with MLB and the Mariners on alternate plans for the scheduling of those games.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said his club’s brand new facility could be ready if needed.
“From an operational standpoint, we have lights, we have a field, it is certainly capable,” Daniels told reporters at Rangers camp. “We’ll have already played two games there. It is part of the discussions. I think everything has been and will continue to be discussed. Public health will ultimately take priority over financial considerations. I don’t think we know enough to sit here and give full answers yet.”
The Twins train in Florida and are scheduled to open their regular season in Oakland with a four-game series from March 26-30 before being scheduled to play the Mariners in Seattle.
Stanton said the Mariners could travel to Minneapolis for that second series of the season, though noted cold weather can be an issue there. With the Twins already on the West Coast, a stopover in Arizona would be relatively easy.
There are no definite answers on when the Mariners might return to Seattle, but Stanton said they’re focused for now on the first week of games.
“A lot of this is happening in real time, so we’re trying to figure it out as we go,” he said.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “It’s one of these things we can’t control. Obviously we have to do what’s right for our home city and certainly understand what’s going on and the severity of it. We’ll have a clearer picture here in the next 48 hours or so where we’re going to play, but everybody understands the options. Most likely we’ll stay down here, but we’ll see.”