SEATTLE, Wash. – The Seattle Mariners are seeking alternative options for their season-opening series after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday a ban on all large gatherings in the three counties of the Seattle metro area because of the virus outbreak.
Inslee said social gatherings of 250 or more people, including sporting events, are banned through at least the end of March because of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Seattle area. Officials said gatherings of under 250 could also be barred unless specific measures are followed.
The decision impacts the Mariners' first seven games of the Major League Baseball season against the Texas Rangers (March 26-29) and Minnesota Twins (March 30-April 1), plus home games for the MLS Seattle Sounders, XFL Seattle Dragons and a pair of junior hockey teams in the area.
“We’re working through the alternatives right now," Mariners owner John Stanton said at the team's spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona. “We think the alternatives include playing in Seattle in an empty stadium, the alternatives include playing in the home park of our opponents, in this case the Rangers and the Twins. Or playing at a neutral park in Peoria.”
Stanton said he hoped to have an answer on where the team will play the first two series by Friday. He said it’s unlikely the Mariners would play in Seattle at an empty stadium.
“As you can imagine, a lot of this is happening real time. So we’re trying to figure it out as we go," he said.
Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager said conversations about the virus have dominated the clubhouse over the past few days. He added players would like some sort of resolution to the team's playing situation as soon as possible, but that everyone's health was most important.
“This is a major, major, major thing,” Seager said. “This is a major event, not only in Seattle, but the world.”
MLB could shift the Rangers-Mariners four-game series to Texas. The Rangers are set to open a retractable-roof stadium this year, and Texas general manager Jon Daniels said this week the park would be ready if need be.
“Everything's being discussed, all potential contingency plans," Daniels said at the Rangers' camp in Surprise, Arizona.
“I think one key thing to try keep in mind is, obviously it's changed day by day. We're talking about something a little over two weeks from now and what are the circumstances looking like at that point. So, it is a little early to sit here and kind of break down what pros and cons of each option to them, not totally sure what specifics will be by the time we get there," he said.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced Wednesday that all NCAA Division I basketball tournament games will be played with only essential staff and limited family in attendance. That will affect the men's first and second rounds that are being played at the Spokane Arena in eastern Washington, while early rounds of the women's tournament could end up being played on campus at Gonzaga, which is also in Spokane.
The Seattle area is dealing with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country -- there have been 22 deaths from the same suburban nursing home and 29 total in the state. Inslee said Tuesday the state is preparing for potentially tens of thousands of cases, based on estimates of the spread of the disease.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks. Those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 63,000 so far have recovered.
After the opening homestand, the Mariners are not scheduled to play at home again until April 9-14 against Boston and Washington.
The impact will be less on the Sounders, who had just one home game postponed -- March 21 vs. FC Dallas -- until April 18. The Sounders played their first two matches of the MLS regular season at home, including last Saturday when an announced crowd for 33,080 showed up for their match against Columbus in the midst of the outbreak.
The XFL Seattle Dragons will host Los Angeles on Sunday with no fans permitted in the stadium. The Dragons also have a home game against New York on March 22.
About 45 minutes south of Seattle, Tacoma's home game against San Diego in the second-tier United Soccer League Championship on Wednesday night was to be played in an empty stadium.
Also, Everett's junior hockey team will play on March 20 at home without fans.
The University of Washington said it will restrict attendance at spring sporting events to staff and family of players.
On Tuesday, Texas catcher Robinson Chirinos said he was "a little bit" concerned about traveling to Seattle for the opening series considering what was happening with the virus in the area.
"I know the season starts in Seattle, and we know how Seattle is right now," he said Tuesday.
Said Texas pitcher Corey Kluber: “I think we’re just, everybody has to be open to what the experts say."
“None of us are experts. If I was trying to say whether something was good or bad, I’d be speaking without knowledge of the situation,” he said Wednesday.
It's not the first time the Mariners had scheduled regular-season games moved out of Seattle. During the 1994 season, ceiling tiles fell from the roof of the Kingdome, prompting the Mariners to play the final 20 games of the strike-shortened season on the road. Thirteen of those 20 games were originally scheduled to be played in Seattle.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Peoria, Arizona, contributed to this story.