PORT CHARLOTTE — There was a buzz throughout Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday afternoon and it had little to do with the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
In an announcement that was anticipated before the national anthem, but arrived closer to the seventh-inning streak, Major League Baseball officially canceled the remainder of the Spring Training schedule due to concerns about the coronavirus.
The baseball regular season, which was scheduled to start on March 26, has been postponed at least two weeks.
“We kind of figured this might be our last game,” center field Kevin Kiermaier said after coming out of the game. “You look at the writing on the wall. Every sporting event is shutting down, so why wouldn’t we do the same thing? It’s all precautionary measures. It’s very, very serious.
“Right now it looks like we’re going to shut it down for a little bit for the safety of everyone.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred and the league’s owners held a conference call Thursday afternoon.
“MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible,” MLB said in its statement.
Rays starting pitcher Brendan McKay was roughed up for four runs in just 1 ⅓ innings, but afterward most of the discussion centered on the shutdown and his personal concerns going forward.
“Guys have obviously been talking about it,” the 24-year-old left-hander said while addressing the media in a tent outside the clubhouse. “It’s one of the hottest topics, and guys are obviously concerned about it. You’ve got a couple of cases that have popped up in Florida area and around here.
“My girlfriend works in a hospital (in the Tampa area), so I don’t know if she’s come in contact with anyone or she may not even know. It’s a little scary.
“It’s tough these days. You come in contact with so many people, it’s hard to know who’s what.”
As of mid-afternoon on Thursday, the players themselves were still unsure what the next step would be.
“We’re planning on showing up tomorrow, having a light workout and going from there,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “It’s extremely odd. For it to come out of nowhere is crazy. But I guess we’ll take it in stride. Hopefully the guys can use this time to get healthy or do whatever we need to do and whenever they say Opening Day is we’ll be ready.
“It’s very odd situation and hopefully we can figure it out quickly. Tomorrow we have a meeting at 10, hopefully we’ll get a little more information. It’s definitely going to be interesting. There’s a lot of logistics to figure out. It’s above my pay grade, so just tell me where to show up and I’ll be there.”
After the game, an 8-4 win for the Phillies for the record, manager Kevin Cash didn’t have many more answers.
“Our plan, as of right now, is to have the players come in for a 10 o’clock meeting to provide them with information, I’m not exactly sure what it is yet,” Cash said. “The earlier discussions is 10 o’clock meeting and take the rest of the day as an off day. And hopefully get more information throughout the day.”
Cash acknowledged that there are wider issues at play: “(The Rays’ season) is very much secondary to what’s taking place right now in the world, our season will be played when it’s time.”
“It’s just a tough situation overall,” McKay said. “You can’t play in a hazmat suit, you probably die down here doing that. You try to take all the precautions you can.”
The Atlanta Braves said in a statement: “While the Braves are disappointed to cut our regular spring training schedule short, the health and safety of our fans, employees, players and the community at large has been, and always will be, a priority for us.”
On Wednesday night, the NBA became the first major American sports league to suspend play because of the virus, while the NHL suspended its season indefinitely on Thursday afternoon. The NCAA basketball tournament has been canceled.