Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to a national television audience via ESPN's SportsCenter last week, but he didn't give a definitive answer on when baseball will return.


Thursday should be the home opener for the Kansas City Royals against the Seattle Mariners, yet the stadium gates will remain locked and the turnstiles eerily motionless.


All major sports in the United States, and in many other parts of the world, have shut down because of concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic. As government and health officials continue to struggle to contain the spread of the virus, uncertainty remains about how soon professional teams like the Royals might return to the field.


At least one regional health expert suggests June might be too optimistic, saying it may be late summer before the Royals resume playing baseball games at Kauffman Stadium. Even then, he questions how many people will be allowed to attend.


When asked Wednesday if he felt confident the Royals will play at all this season, KU Health System chief medical officer Steve Stites replied, "I don't know the answer to that question, to be completely honest. ... I think that baseball will be back this year. I don't know when it's going to be back. I don't think it's going to be in June; I think it will be more toward the late summer.


"And obviously I want it to be back. I love the Royals, and I love baseball and I love The K. So I think it will still be back. I just think it's going to look different. I don't know how many people (will be) allowed in the stands. There's just not enough to know yet about how this is going to go. But I am still optimistic there will be some baseball here in Kansas City in 2020. I don't know what it will look like."


Stites said the public's willingness to remain "socially responsible" will help determine next steps.


"But I think we'll have something happen," he said. " It will be a while before we'll be back to normal. It's going to take, probably, a vaccine and other therapies to make this a little less scary. But I think we're going to get there."


On March 12, MLB suspended all spring training games and announced what would be at least a two-week delay of opening day. The next day, all spring training camps were suspended.


Following CDC recommendations restricting events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks and instructing people to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10, Manfred issued a statement March 16, stating, "The opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance."


That eight-week time period would mean MLB teams couldn't host games until the middle of May at the earliest.


MLB and the MLB Players Association have had ongoing discussions about various topics surrounding the pandemic, including the ramifications of a truncated or potentially canceled season on player compensation, service time and salary arbitration, as well as potential schedule adjustments.


While MLB and the MLBPA reached an initial agreement late last week, according to several published reports, the 30 individual clubs have been instructed not to discuss potential start dates or schedule changes publicly.


When reached by The Star last week, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said he would not speculate on when baseball would return, deferring to health officials and MLB.


The Royals declined comment Wednesday when contacted about Dr. Stites' comments.


During his ESPN interview last week, Manfred was non-committal about a timetable for baseball's return.


"The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back," Manfred said. "Whenever it's safe to play, we'll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic.


"Look, my optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we'll be gearing back up. We'll have to make a determination, depending what the precise date is, as to how much of a preparation period we need, whether that preparation period is going to be done in the clubs' home cities or back in Florida and Arizona. Again, I think the goal would be to get as many regular-season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal."


KC Star healthcare reporter Lisa Gutierrez contributed to this report.