Cactus League seeks spring baseball season delay - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Cactus League seeks spring baseball season delay

February 4th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Cactus League seeks spring baseball season delay

By Gareth Kwok
Cronkite News

The Cactus League board has asked Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training in Arizona due to high COVID-19 infection rates in Maricopa County.

In a letter addressed to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the board wrote:

“In view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County – with one of the nation’s highest infection rates – we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here.”

The board’s decision is “based off data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which projects a sharp decline in infections in Arizona by mid-March,” the letter stated.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the state has over 727,000 reported cases of COVID-19.

The letter is signed by Bridget Binsbacher, the executive director of the Cactus League; Martin Harvier, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President; the city managers of Phoenix and Tempe; and the mayors of Mesa, Surprise, Peoria, Scottsdale, Goodyear and Glendale.

“We just wanted to let MLB know that if there was any opportunity to postpone the season that we collectively, as the host cities, the host municipalities, and the tribal community, would support that,” Binsbacher said.

If spring training were to be delayed, MLB would not be able to make this decision unilaterally.

It would have to reach an agreement with the Players Association, which has been adamant about starting spring training on time.

Binsbacher made it clear that the Cactus League is “not part of those discussions” between MLB and the Players Association.

Cactus League spring training is scheduled to begin on Feb. 27.

Whenever it starts, it will look different because of restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago Cubs sent out an email Friday that said it will not be able to offer spring training season-ticket holders their same seat locations for the 2021 season.

“As part of updated guidance from MLB and in coordination with requirements and guidelines, we are shifting to limited, socially distanced pod-style seating.”

Asked if no fans in attendance could be an option for Cactus League games this season, Binsbacher said “that is a possibility.” However, she is hopeful for a pod-seating concept for all facilities.

“This pod seating concept, it works,” Binsbacher said. “You can sell tickets in small groups and structure them so that they’re not close together. You can meet all of the CDC guidelines and maintain social distancing and manage traffic patterns.

“It can be done. We’re hopeful that there will be fans in the stands, but again, it changes all the time. We’re moving in the right direction and so we’re just trying to be as optimistic and ready for whatever comes our way.”

If infection rates in Maricopa County show no sign of improvement and the Cactus League were to be canceled, Mesa Mayor John Giles says it would have a detrimental effect on the local economy.

The Cactus League generated approximately $363 million in economic last season before COVID-19 shut down the season on March 12, the league said.

“Every year, we experience a tremendous boon in our local economy because of spring training,” Giles said. “Last year, we saw the impact of terminating the spring training season early and it did have a significant detrimental economic impact on the community.

“Certainly this year is not going to be a normal year. No one is suggesting that we return to business as usual but I think we are all stating the obvious of the longer we wait, hopefully, the better the situation is going to be for considering including fans.”

While Binsbacher awaits a response from Manfred and MLB, she and the Cactus League executive board are optimistic for spring training this year.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel and whether that’s two weeks or four weeks or six weeks is again, completely out of our control and something that has to be negotiated between MLB and the Players Association.”