By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – It had the feel of the final game of spring training on Thursday, usually the fastest game of the spring – with one exception.
In any other year, the game is followed by players packing up and boarding an airplane, ready to begin the start of the regular season.
When Thursday’s game ended, the players on the Cardinals – and throughout the major leagues – headed off to the unknown.
Major League Baseball announced on Thursday that the remainder of spring training games have been cancelled and the start of the regular season delayed by at least two weeks, until April 9, because of the coronavirus pandemic that is shutting down virtually the entire sports world.
The start of the minor league seasons, which had been scheduled for April 9, also will be delayed but without a timetable for when those games will start.
Those announcements came on the same day the NCAA cancelled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments as well as all spring sports, including cancelling the College World Series.
Many of the Cardinals’ veterans left Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium before MLB’s official announcement, and declined to comment on what they thought was going to happen.
Players are expected to report to the facility on Friday, but will happen next is anybody’s guess. Will they keep the facilities open for players to work out and if so for how long? Will players be allowed to go home? Will there by a short mini-camp before the season starts, and will that be in Florida or St. Louis?
All of those were questions nobody could answer on Thursday.
“This is uncharted territory,” manager Mike Shildt said on Thursday morning, before MLB’s announcement but with the knowledge of what was likely coming following a conference call between the commissioner and team owners.
It followed the suspension of the NBA season on Wednesday night and that of the NHL and MLS seasons earlier on Thursday.
The Cardinals pulled all of their scouts off the road after Wednesday’s games, telling them to go home. Of course, there don’t appear to be games to scout now anyway.
The guards and security personnel at the stadium were told to report to work as normal on Friday, but don’t know what to expect in the days and weeks that follow.
Neither does anybody else.
John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, said the spring training facility will remain open, at least for the time being, for training and workouts but the practice fields and facility will be closed to the public.
“We have been communicating as much as we can with our players, fans, and employees up to this point, and are taking direction from the MLB Commissioner’s Office while we analyze our next steps from all angles,” Mozeliak said.
The team said an announcement will be forthcoming on the policy for refunding tickets for games which have been cancelled as well as for regular-season games affected by the delay in starting the season.
The minor-league camp is expected to remain open, but with some schedule adjustments. Thursday was the reporting day for all of the organization’s position players after pitchers and catchers went through their first workout on Wednesday.
In a press release, the Cardinals said they have established an internal task force from all departments that will deal with the continuing, and changing, effects of the pandemic. Matt Gifford, vice president of stadium operations, will lead the task force.
The Cardinals and MLB said no decision has been made regarding the status of the team’s series against the Cubs set to be played in London in June.
Before MLB’s announcement, the Cardinals beat the Marlins 3-0 in what Matt Carpenter described a perhaps the “most meaningless game in the history of the sport.”
Adam Wainwright worked five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out three.
Now, he will have to wait to find out when he will pitch next.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains