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Rick Zamperin: We are one step closer to hearing ‘play ball’ — or are we?

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. walks off the field during a spring training baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla.
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. walks off the field during a spring training baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Major League Baseball has unveiled a plan to throw out the opening pitch to its COVID-19 shortened season just before Independence Day.

But should the players play ball?

The league proposes to play about half-a-season’s worth of games starting around the Fourth of July weekend in ballparks without fans, and spring training will restart in early-to-mid June.

MLB‘s plan would also expand the use of the designated hitter in the National League for the first time ever for the 2020 season and the number of playoff teams would grow from 10 to 14 by doubling the number of wild card spots in each league from two to four.

READ MORE: Less than 1% of Major League Baseball workers tested positive for coronavirus antibodies

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And if government and public health officials don’t allow teams to play in their home stadiums, spring training facilities or neutral sites would be used.

It all sounds good, but there are some road blocks ahead.

The current Canada-U.S. border closure to all non-essential travel is set to expire May 21 but it has already been extended once and America’s bulging COVID-19 case count may prompt federal officials in our country to opt for another extension.

An ongoing border closure would keep the Toronto Blue Jays down south for the summer and force the team to potentially play ‘home’ games at their spring training ballpark in Dunedin, Florida.

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The other, and much bigger, sticking point is money.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that about 40 per cent of leagues revenue is tied to gate receipts, including concessions and parking, so it’s easy to see that the owners will take a financial hit with no fans in the stands, but money from baseball’s broadcast agreements and online merchandise sales will continue to flow in.

READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: 2020 MLB season may start this summer with new divisions

Because the season will be cut in half, teams are preparing to pay the players half their salaries.

So, not only will they lose a big chunk of their pay, it’ll be impossible for players to physically distance themselves from one another on the diamond, raising the risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

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It is the players who will be exposed to the most risk.

Bo Bichette representing Blue Jays in MLB The Show Players Tournament
Bo Bichette representing Blue Jays in MLB The Show Players Tournament