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Coronavirus puts start to promising White Sox season on hold

Spring training shut down; MLB season will start at least two weeks late

Guaranteed Rate Field. (Daryl Van Schouwen)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The start of what was looking like a promising season for the White Sox was put on hold Thursday by Major League Baseball, which announced it will delay the start of the season by at least two weeks because of the coronavirus crisis.

In a move that was expected after the NBA, NHL and MLS suspended their seasons and shortly before the NCAA basketball tournament was canceled, MLB shut down spring training and said the season would not start until April 9, at the earliest. The Sox were scheduled to open at home against the Royals on March 26. All 30 teams were slated to open that day.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker asked all sports-team owners to suspend games until May 1, and all have agreed, so the Sox would have to open the season on the road or perhaps at home without fans if the season were to begin before then. In any event, the situation remains fluid, and the possibility of only a two-week delay to the start of the season is clearly a best-case scenario.

To stay prepared for the beginning of the season — whenever that will be — teams will keep their facilities in Arizona open for players to work out if they choose to do so. Pitchers have throwing programs to adjust accordingly and to maintain as they gear up for the regular season, and most position players will want to hit and field to stay sharp. Many Sox players are expected to stay in their spring residences near Camelback Ranch and frequent the facility, although they have the freedom to go home, and it’s not known how many would make that choice.

There have been no known cases of coronavirus among baseball players, but most players are said to be in agreement with baseball’s decision.

“Yeah, safety first, for sure,” one Sox player said via text message.

“It’s important to know that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports at the moment,” Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said.

“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans,” MLB said in a statement. “We will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts.”

While the league and teams are preparing contingency plans for the regular-season schedule, the Sox were not forthcoming with details — probably because they hadn’t been ironed out yet on short notice — but the team said general manager Rick Hahn would be available to the media Friday morning.

“Given the unprecedented nature and fluidity of this situation, we ask for patience from our fans as we work with MLB and the 29 other teams to address logistics and scheduling adjustments,” the Sox said in a statement.

“The health and well-being of our nation, the great city of Chicago we call ‘home’ and the millions of fans who support us are far more important than what happens on a baseball field.”

A stoppage probably couldn’t have happened at a worse time for a team whose opener was the most anticipated in several years. The Sox have enjoyed an upbeat camp in anticipation of fielding an improved team after signing free agents Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion and Steve Cishek. They also gave long-term contracts to rookie Luis Robert, third baseman Yoan Moncada and reliever Aaron Bummer.

Jose Abreu, signed to a $50 million deal in the offseason, said Wednesday he was ready for the regular season to begin “right now.”

“The expectations are high with this team, and every Sox fan should be excited because we have a good team,” Abreu said.

Now no one knows when it will begin. MLB’s last mass postponement of openers was 1995, when the season was shortened from 162 games to 144 after a 7½-month strike by the players. Opening Day was pushed back from April 2 to April 26.