The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)

Cactus League asks MLB to delay spring training due to COVID

- By Jake Seiner

The Cactus League and Arizona community leaders have asked Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training due to coronaviru­s concerns just over three weeks before pitchers and catchers are supposed to report.

The Cactus League made the request in a letter to Baseball Commission­er Rob Manfred obtained by The Associated Press on Monday. The letter was co-signed by the mayors of Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise, Glendale, Goodyear and Peoria, as well as representa­tives from Phoenix and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

MLB said in a statement that it “will continue to consult with public health authoritie­s, medical experts, and the Players Associatio­n whether any schedule modificati­ons to the announced start of Spring Training and the Championsh­ip Season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environmen­t to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees and other game day personnel in a sport that plays every day.”

Arizona is averaging just under 7,000 new coronaviru­s cases per day, but the Cactus League cited data in its letter from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation projecting a sharp decline in infections by midMarch, down to as few as 3,072 daily. Spring camps are set to open the week of Feb. 15, with the regular season set to start on April 1.

Despite the roiling case numbers, the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes are hosting 3,450 fans for home games in Glendale, while the NBA’s Phoenix Suns are playing without fans. High school sports are also still operating. The Cactus League hosts 15 MLB clubs.

In a sign that other teams are moving forward with preseason plans, the spring training home in Jupiter, Florida, shared by the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins announced Monday it will begin selling tickets for spring games beginning Feb. 1. Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium said 2021 tickets will be sold in seating pods of two, four or six spaced six feet apart throughout the stadium.

Any changes to the major league schedule are subject to agreement with the players’ associatio­n per terms of their collective bargaining agreement. A person familiar with talks between the sides said MLB asked the union in November about moving back opening day a month to create a safer playing environmen­t, possibly spurred by the availabili­ty of vaccines.

The union asked if the postseason could be moved back to make up the 30 or so missed games, or if the league would pay players for the missed games if they weren’t made up. The league declined, saying it wouldn’t push the postseason deep into November over broadcast concerns and wouldn’t pay players for missed games.

Talks stalled there, and no formal proposals about altering opening day have been exchanged.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Monday because the discussion­s were considered private.

“The letter correctly notes that MLB does not have the ability to unilateral­ly make this decision,” the players’ associatio­n said in a statement. “While we, of course, share the goals of a safe spring training and regular season, MLB has repeatedly assured us that it has instructed its teams to be prepared for an on time start to spring training and the regular season and we continue to devote all our efforts to making sure that that takes place as safely as possible.”

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