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M.L.B. Pushes Back Opening Day Over Coronavirus Concerns

Major League Baseball announced the most extensive disruption of its schedule in 25 years on Thursday, suspending spring training and delaying opening day by at least two weeks in response to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

The regular season had been scheduled to begin on March 26, the earliest leaguewide opening day ever. Now the season has been postponed indefinitely, as officials with the league and players’ union confer about how to manage an ever-evolving crisis that has crippled global sports.

“We will take our lead from people that are immersed with expertise more so than any sports entities,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said before an exhibition game with the Washington Nationals on Thursday, before M.L.B.’s announcement. “We are trying to implement best practices as we go along. Every day there is a new adjustment to it.”

Minor League Baseball also announced that it would delay its season, with plans to begin “as soon as it is safe to do so,” according to a statement. M.L.B. said that qualifying games for next year’s World Baseball Classic had also been postponed.

The postponements came after similar announcements from the N.H.L. and M.L.S. earlier Thursday, with both leagues saying they would suspend their seasons. The N.B.A. announced Wednesday night it would do the same.

M.L.B. has been devising various models of how the schedule could play out: either with a full 162 games, or with fewer for each team. The league has held a full schedule — occasionally with a handful of games missed because of weather — every season since 1995, when a strike delayed the opener until late April, and teams played only 144 games.

Teams continued to play spring training games with spectators on Thursday, even as word swept through camps that owners were holding a conference call with plans to suspend the season. In Jupiter, Fla., the St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter said he had been told of the plan before his team’s game against the Miami Marlins.

“It felt like the most meaningless game in the history of the sport,” Carpenter said.

With spring training suspended, the teams have largely been left to make plans as they go. The Milwaukee Brewers, for example, said they would hold an optional workout at their camp in Phoenix on Friday, hold no workouts over the weekend, then have another workout on Monday morning. The workouts would not be open to the public, and players would not be available to the news media until Monday.

The Yankees’ manager, Aaron Boone, said that as far as he knew, players would remain in Tampa, Fla., where the team’s spring training facility is, with pitchers throwing simulated games. The Cardinals said their players would report to camp for a meeting on Friday morning, with the schedule after that to be determined.

“Look at what’s happening around our country right now; there’s a lot of things closing down,” Cardinals President John Mozeliak said. “We view this as a pause, and hopefully it allows us to get into a position where we can resume playing baseball again. But in the short term, this camp will remain open until we sort through some things and understand logistics.”

Mozeliak added that he had not noticed much concern about the issue until Thursday, when the severity of the pandemic took hold among the players.

“The tone of the clubhouse today, for the first time, I felt like they were very much aware of what was happening and I felt like there was real anxiety in that clubhouse,” Mozeliak said.

Teams will likely allow players to leave camp if they believe they need to be with their families during a time of such uncertainty. But teams also do not want to squander their work from the first month of spring training, with its gradual, carefully scripted work schedule designed to prepare players for a six- or seven-month grind.

“Obviously, we’ve been building the pitchers up, so we’ll want to continue with that smartly,” Boone said. “Those will be the conversations over the coming days as this thing unfolds, like, ‘Man, does it look like we are starting April 9?’ We will do our best to put our guys in a position to be ready to go whenever that bell rings.”

If the season resumes in April, some teams could still be affected by restrictions from local governments. The governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, said Thursday that he wanted all major sporting events to be canceled — or played without fans — until May 1, a plan that would affect Chicago’s two major league teams. A spokesman for the White Sox said the team agreed with the governor, and a spokesman for the Cubs said the team would “work in close coordination” with the city and state.

League officials were unsure on Thursday whether opening the season as early as April 9 would be feasible, instead deciding to leave the official start of the season an open question.

It is not the first time the major league schedule has been disrupted. Labor issues delayed the start of the 1972 season, disrupted the middle of the 1981 season and ended the 1994 season in August. The league postponed a week of games after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, making them up at the end of the regular season and pushing back the postseason by a week. The 1989 World Series was also suspended for more than a week after an earthquake struck Northern California just before the scheduled start of Game 3 in San Francisco.

The coronavirus pandemic, though, comes with no playbook for a sport that played its full schedule even during World War II. (The 1918 season ended early because of World War I, with the World Series taking place in early September.)

Even before the announcement on Thursday, individual teams had taken steps to protect club employees. The Yankees were among several teams that called all professional scouts and national cross-checkers off the road, though scouts will still be allowed to evaluate players in their home areas.

Of course, that assumes that there will be games — at any level — for the scouts to attend. The coronavirus has schedules on hold, in and out of baseball, with no timeline for resumption.

As the umpire Angel Hernandez walked to his dressing room after calling the Yankees-Nationals game in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Thursday, he gestured to reporters and said, unprompted, “See you guys in June.”

James Wagner contributed reporting from Jupiter, Fla., and David Waldstein from West Palm Beach, Fla.

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