Yankees React to Postponed MLB Season, COVID-19 Pandemic

Max Goodman

The final two weeks of Spring Training were poised to feature intense roster battles, growth among promising prospects, veterans jockeying for one last shot in the big leagues and plenty of baseball.

Instead, on Thursday afternoon, much of the sports world came to an abrupt halt.

Major League Baseball announced the cancelation of all remaining exhibition games – in addition to a two-week postponement of the 2020 regular season – due to the growth of COVID-19. 

For Yankees players, coaches and staff, the news wasn't all that shocking. With the NBA setting a precedent, shutting down games until further notice on Wednesday evening, MLB was left with no choice. 

Prior to the league's announcement, Yankees' ace Gerrit Cole told reporters he expected some sort of delay to take place as concerns regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic continued to grow. Now, he'll have to wait at least two additional weeks until he can make his regular season debut with his new club.

"It’s difficult for everybody," Cole explained to reporters at the Yankees' spring facility in Tampa, Fla. "Everybody is concerned about it. There’s a lot of uncertainty and uncomfortability for loved ones especially elderly. It’s one of those things that comes around every so often where we have to come together as a country and kind of rally against it. Regardless of baseball, I think everybody is feeling the same way."

Baseball isn't the only sport to completely shut down. After initially ruling to revoke access to fans at March Madness games, the NCAA elected to cancel its annual tournament entirely. MLS, NHL, XFL and more have all suspended their seasons as well.

Giancarlo Stanton called the experience of finding out MLB had been shut down "alarming" and a "weird feeling." He agreed with Cole, however, that it was the right course of action for the league to take.

"It’s unfortunate but I think it’s the proper measure we need to take now given the situation the country’s in and the world’s in," the slugger said. "It’s important to know that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports at the moment. Once we’re able to hopefully get a hold on some things and get some questions answered we can figure out when things can continue."

Amid a frenzy of breaking news, the Bombers played a baseball game Thursday afternoon, defeating the Nationals 6-3 in West Palm Beach. Yankees' skipper Aaron Boone recalled thinking to himself that the contest could very well be his club's final spring exhibition game. He revealed that he was given an update during the game that it would be a Spring Training finale. 

“This is obviously a unique situation," Boone told reporters after the win. "It’s bigger than baseball, so you just kind of want to be part of doing your best on behalf of the world. You don’t want to contribute to this becoming a real poor situation, so we’ll be cooperative and try to play our part the best way we can.”

As for what's next, general manager Brian Cashman disclosed that the organization has already taken steps to keep members of the Yankees family safe in a time of uncertainty.

"We’ll scout from afar on the amateur arena at this stage because there’s been a temporary suspension of flights for our cross checkers," Cashman explained to reporters. "And then on the pro scouting side, we’re going to shut that down and send our pro scouts home."

Boone described the plan for the big-league club moving forward – as of now. 

"My understanding right now is that we’ll stay here. We’ll continue to work out as a club," the manager said. "My guess is that it remains a fluid situation obviously, so we’ll just kind of take MLB’s lead and the situation’s lead and hopefully get to a point where we can get back out there.”

Boone also described that the club will have its own set of simulated games so pitchers can continue to build up – albeit at a revised, slower pace – to their next in-game appearance. 

With Opening Day pushed back two weeks, New York won't open the regular season until April 9 at the earliest – four weeks away as of Thursday. That gives several Yankees – including Aaron Judge and Stanton – an opportunity to recover from injuries that previously had them ruled out for the season's opener. 

Although it's uncharted territory, Stanton assured that all ballplayers won't sit idly by during this temporary suspension. These next few weeks will still be devoted to preparing for the regular season – even if there's presently no definitive start date.

"We definitely have to keep moving," Stanton explained to reporters. "We don’t know if it’s something where everything can start up again or if it’s going to be a couple week process when that time comes. We’re definitely a sport that needs those weeks to develop into the season. Another interesting case given that."

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees

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