VIDEO: Major League Baseball joins other leagues by pushing back opening day, canceling spring games
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VIDEO: Major League Baseball joins other leagues by pushing back opening day, canceling spring games

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JUPITER, Fla. — Following the lead of other professional sports leagues around the world and their response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, Major League Baseball has delayed the opening of its regular season by at least two weeks and immediately canceled the remaining spring training games.

The announcement was made that all spring training games as of 3 p.m. St. Louis time would be canceled. The Cardinals played on into the final innings of a game that began at noon St. Louis time.

"Felt like the most meaningless game in the history of the sport," third baseman Matt Carpenter said.

Other players echoed that sentiment.

Most players who left the Cardinals' Roger Dean Stadium complex on Thursday were unsure what that meant for their schedule. That will be clarified by team officials later in the evening.

The announcement by Major League Baseball comes after a conference call with all 30 owners and other executives, and it follows the NBA, MLS, and NHL -- each of who paused their season ahead of baseball's decision. The governor of Florida urged businesses not to have events where more than a couple of hundred people gathered. The Cardinals and Marlins had thousands at their exhibition game Thursday.

The Cardinals were set to open the season in Cincinnati on March 26.

The home opener was to follow on April 2.

The delayed start to the season will push both games back, or the schedule could be reduced so as not to leak the World Series into November. Major League Baseball stated in a release that the teams "have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule." An announcement on those plays will happen "at the appropriate time," the officials and the statement have stressed the response to the virus and its spread must remain flexible and respond to the news.

The Cardinals have planned an afternoon media availability to discuss the release and explain the team's schedule for the coming days.

This is a developing story and it will be updated.

***

From earlier ...

As MLB prepares to suspend spring training and delay season, Cardinals and Marlins play on

Major League Baseball owners and executives plan a Thursday afternoon announcement on how the leagues will respond to growing concern about the coronavirus, which has led to the cancellation or postponement of pro sports around the globe.

The Cardinals were expecting MLB to suspend spring training, and an announcement was planned by the commissioner's office Thursday afternoon. Reports have swirled, from ESPN and elsewhere, that MLB will stop spring training and delay the start of the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Marlins continue to play in front of a packed house at Roger Dean Stadium. The score is tied, 0-0, going into the fifth inning.

Officials have spent Thursday discussing how the league should respond to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, an ongoing conversation that is expected to result in an announcement of changes to the league's spring training plans in both Florida and Arizona. But those decisions had not been finalized by the start of Thursday's Grapefruit League game between the Cardinals and Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.

The Cardinals and the Marlins began play — first pitch came  from Adam Wainwright at 1:07 p.m. Eastern — hours after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked cities and counties to postpone or cancel any mass gatherings in the next 30 days due to the spread of COVID-19, known as coronavirus.

DeSantis, speaking in Miami before noon, asked that any event that is not canceled exercise screening measures that prevent those who have been contaminated from entering. Roger Dean Stadium had no screening measures in place before Thursday's game.

Florida's surgeon general, Scott Rivkees, warned earlier this week that coronavirus has a mortality rate 20 to 40 times higher than the flu in older populations. Cardinals spring training games are especially popular among retirees in the Sunshine State, including stadium workers.

One MLB scout told the Post-Dispatch as many as a half-dozen teams have told scouts to stop traveling the spring-training circuit.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, speaking before the game, called the coronavirus pandemic a "rightful distraction that we've spent energy talking about."

"Our job — my job — obviously is to be concerned about the safety of our group," Shildt said Thursday morning. "As far as anything related to the game and the fans, that's something which Major League Baseball is determining, probably as we speak."

"We're going to do the best we can as an industry and a team to make sure everybody feels safe."

"This is uncharted territory — what that looks like," Shildt said. "People are going to be thinking about their safety and the safety of their families. Ultimately we've done everything we can internally to make sure our players are safe. Nothing is foolproof clearly. But we also have the beautiful ability to have a game that we all enjoy and we want to focus on that, as well."

Shildt said there was zero indication that the Cardinals were dealing with any concerns of someone on or with the team showing signs of coronavirus.

Thursday's game between the Cardinals and Marlins was one of seven Grapefruit League games scheduled to be played Thursday, with seven more in Arizona's Cactus League.

The Roger Dean Stadium crowd was slow to fill in but robust as usual by first pitch. The Yankees and the Nationals started their game in front of a sellout crowd in West Palm Beach. DeSantis' request specified cancellations and/or postponements of crowds larger than 250 people.

Baseball's exhibition games played on (for now) after a string of cancellations and postponements across the sports world, from the suspension of the NBA and NHL regular seasons, to the cancellation of college basketball conference championships and more.

Ben Frederickson

@Ben_Fred on Twitter

bfrederickson@post-dispatch.com

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