DUNEDIN, Fla. - Toronto Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro says its too early to tell how much the 2020 Major League Baseball season will be impacted by the spread of COVID-19, but the team's immediate concern should be the health and safety of fans, players and staff.
Shapiro spoke to reporters Friday outside the team's spring training facility a day after MLB suspended operations indefinitely in response to the spreading novel coronavirus. Like many sports executives, Shapiro is still trying to figure out the how to deal with an unprecedented week in sports that saw major events and leagues across the globe either postponed or cancelled outright because of the coronavirus.
“Our general tone when we met with the players this morning is we really can't answer the questions that thoroughly because we don't have that many answers right now,” Shapiro said.
He said right now the Blue Jays can help the more society-wide issue of helping slow the spread of the virus.
“Most importantly, that obviously is not fostering crowds, not fostering mass gatherings,” he said. “So the easiest thing we can do is understand and support that we're not playing baseball in front of our fans.”
Shapiro said he was initially disappointed with MLB's decision to cancel the rest of spring training and suspend the start of the regular season by at least two weeks. The Blue Jays were on a roll in Grapefruit League action and were looking forward to kicking off the 2020 campaign with a four-game home series against the American League East-rival Boston Red Sox starting March 26 at Rogers Centre.
“I had a moment where, selfishly, I was pretty sad. I was like 'You've got to be kidding me. There's great things happening and I want to continue watching these guys play,” Shapiro said. “I caught myself about 30 seconds into that thanking about the broader challenges we're facing as a society, and the demands that leadership have, and our role in that as an industry, as a team and as individuals and immediately shifted back to what we need to do.
“Flashing forward to this morning (general manager Ross Atkins) and I met with the team, and our coaches prior to that, and our singular goal was to help them understand the gravity of what we're facing and the importance of our roles as leaders in ensuring we do the best we can to help, and not hurt, the dilemma we're facing as a society and as a community.”
Shapiro said he expects to get more clarity over the 72 hours “as the commissioner and the PA meet and understand and navigate the implications on our business moving forward.”
“We are obviously giving some thought to the longer term, but that's not what I'm here to talk about today, because I just don't have clarity what the long term represents.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.