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MLB boss: America's pastime will help coronavirus healing

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New York (AFP)

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says the American pastime will help the nation recover from the coronavirus pandemic, but only after it becomes safe for sports to resume.

Yells of "Play Ball" were supposed to signal the start of the 2020 MLB campaign on Thursday before sellout crowds with all 30 teams in action.

Instead, the stadiums sat empty and silent as Americans stayed home and deaths and infections continued a steady rise nationwide.

"The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back," Manfred told ESPN. "Whenever it's safe to play, we'll be back. Our fans will be back.

"Our players will be back and we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic."

Manfred hopes for a May return and vows "nothing is off the table" when it comes to staging a season, which he admits is unlikely to include a full 162 games per club and could feature a start without spectators in stadiums.

But he sees MLB's comeback as "a real milestone in the return to normalcy" much as the sport served to help the United States heal after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that also temporarily halted sport.

"I think you saw it after 9-11 in terms of the resumption of play," Manfred said. "I was there in (New York's) Shea Stadium that night that we began playing -- it was one of the most memorable games I've ever attended.

"It's an honor for our sport to be regarded in a way that we have been, part of our country coming back from some horrific events. We hope that we can play a similar role with respect to this one."

Manfred says MLB is listening to experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization when considering possible dates to start the season.

"My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May, we'll be gearing back up," Manfred said. "We'll have to make a determination, depending on what the precise date is, as to how much of a preparation period we need.

"I think the goal would be to get to as many regular-season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal."

- Playoff experiments -

Manfred said only that a season would require a "credible number of games" and added, "the exact number we'll see as reasonable is going to depend on when we get to go-ahead to play.

"We need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the post-season format looks like.

"Our fans love a 162-game season and the post-season format we have -- we're probably not going to be able to do that this year. I think that's clear.

"It does give us an opportunity to do some different things, to experiment, and to make sure that we provide as many games as possible and as entertaining a product as possible."

That might include playing two seven-inning games as double-headers rather than typical nine-inning contests, an idea floated by Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins.

Other ideas include playoffs and the World Series at a warm-weather neutral venue to allow regular-season games deep into October and a possibly expanded post-season in November.

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