Pirates general manager Ben Cherington told local reporters he remains "optimistic" we'll see a Major League Baseball season in 2020 during a Zoom video conference Wednesday.
And if that optimism holds true, teams will need roughly three weeks to prepare, a ramp-up period commonly referred to as "Spring Training 2.0." If or when that occurs, Cherington believes Pittsburgh, and specifically PNC Park, can provide the perfect host.
"If it happens, and assuming it happens, [Spring Training 2.0] would happen in Pittsburgh," Cherington said. "And then we also continue to work through alternatives for a training base for a second group, whatever that ends up being called — the taxi squad, or whatever the name for that group ends up being — we continue to look through alternatives for that, too. But I would expect the major-league group would be training in Pittsburgh, if and when we get to that point."
The move, of course, is necessary due to the coronavirus outbreak, which cut short spring training for the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., in mid-March. After the pandemic put the clamps on almost all activity in the U.S., players were left to work out at their homes, in isolation. This represented a major shift from their usual preparations, as they'd be ready to roll for regular-season games by the end of March.
Now, players will need to get back into game shape and back into a formal, team-based routine before the start of the 2020 MLB season, which players and owners remain hopeful can occur in early July.
And while PNC Park may not measure up to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., the Pirates' usual spring training site, Cherington believes a little creativity and planning can make it a perfect location for the team as it preps for the 2020 campaign.
"It [PNC Park] will be different, of course," Cherington said. "Really, comparing PNC to Bradenton, let’s say, there’s gonna be pros and cons to both if you think about a training environment. But we felt that — as we considered all the factors — we felt like Pittsburgh made the most sense, assuming we get to that point. A combination of wanting to minimize the amount that we are moving groups of people from one place to another. Wanting to maximize our proximity and connection to health experts and medical providers."
Beyond that, there's the not-so-small matter of baseball players being, you know, human beings. Asking them to go back to Florida for another three weeks could severely strain their personal plans.
"[We are] sensitive, also, to players’ lives," Cherington said. "We’ve got players that have housing set up in Pittsburgh who normally wouldn’t have housing set up in Bradenton (at) this time of year.
"And we just believed that we’ll be able to use the facility in creative and different ways than we normally would during the season. We can use both clubhouses. We can use concourse areas. We can use the full infrastructure."
All that said, Cherington doesn't rule out the possibility of a secondary site being used in addition to PNC Park.
"It’s possible we’d need a secondary site as the backup or as an adjunct place to get some work done," Cherington said. "We’re working through what those options could be, but we’re confident we put together a good program at PNC."
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