Baseball might be making its comeback in New York City.
In an unprecedented move, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday that the Mets and Yankees will begin a “soft” version of spring training at CitiField and Yankee Stadium while awaiting a decision from Major League Baseball on whether a baseball season will happen this year.
This would be the first time in Cuomo’s memory that the teams have held their spring training in the city, he said. Though Cuomo sounded as though it's a done deal, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have not yet made joint a final decision.
“I spoke to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine of the Yankees, I spoke to Jeff Wilpon of the Mets and they are planning to have their spring training camp in New York,” Cuomo said at a conference call with reporters on Saturday.
“The Yankees will be at Yankee Stadium. The Mets will be at Citi Field for spring training. That is their plan. They're going forward with it. The state is going to review their protocols in place to make sure that they're doing it safely and appropriately. But they're moving their spring training camp from Florida to New York. And I can't remember the last time we had spring training in New York,” he said. “But this is really exciting news for us.
With at least 12 players and staff members testing positive for COVID-19, MLB shut down all spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida on Friday.
The Daily News reported that "several Mets and Yankees players were already working out at the facilities in Port St. Lucie and Tampa and the move to New York may complicate some health and safety procedures" including quarantining and increased testing.
Given the rise in COVID-19 cases in Florida, Cuomo said he thought the New York teams would be safer in their home city.
“The reasons they're coming to New York is because the infection rate in New York is down low compared to other states -- compared to Florida, certainly,” he said. “And that's a credit to all New Yorkers.”
“Florida has a really difficult situation right now. And I think that's it should be a cause of concern for anyone in Florida or for the sports teams that want to play there. I think that's just common sense,” Cuomo added.
Cuomo said the state’s Department of Health is going to help the teams develop appropriate health precautions “to come up with a plan that works both for the team, and meets the state requirements."
He added, "We haven't done that yet because obviously the plan they might have to work in another state is different than the logistics of coming to New York, but I'm quite confident. And both teams have expressed that they will work cooperatively with the state, and we'll come up with a plan that is mutually acceptable to the teams as well as the state."
The MLB is currently hashing out the details of the future season with the Major League Baseball Players Association, with owners asking for a 60-game season while the players are seeking a 70-game season. If no agreement is reached by Monday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to order a short season somewhere around 50 games. Most teams are now expected to have spring training in their home cities.
The first major sporting event to return to New York appears to be the Belmont Stakes this Saturday, with post time scheduled for 5:42 p.m. The jockeys and horses, including the favorite and native New Yorker Tiz the Law, will race in front of empty grandstands.
Belmont is usually the last of the three Triple Crown races but this year is the first race after being rescheduled from June 6th. The Kentucky Derby was rescheduled to September 5th and the Preakness Stakes rescheduled to October 3rd.
Like everything else affected by the pandemic, the race will be altered from its usual length: from 1 1/2-miles (12 furlongs) to 1 1/8-miles (9 furlongs) “to properly account for the schedule adjustments to the Triple Crown series and overall calendar for 3-year-olds in training,” the New York Racing Association said in a statement.
Cuomo said at his conference call Saturday that he hopes sports event organizers consider New York as a potential location if their original sites aren’t usable.
“I think it's important for professional sports. I've welcomed them all back. I said that we would work with all of them,” he said. “I feel that way about Major League Baseball certainly, but other sports also. I've...reached out to many franchises, and I said that we're ready, willing and able to partner," he said. "I think the difference is now, not only are we ready, willing and able to partner, but we're in a state that right now has literally the lowest transmission rate in the country.”
The Yankees and Mets spring training won’t be open to the public, though Cuomo vowed he would stop by. “I'm going to make it my business to go by, drop in,” he said. “Even if I'm uninvited -- just drop in. I'd love to see it.”