Arizona's Cactus League asks MLB to push back spring training because of COVID-19

Will Major League Baseball start on time in 2021? That’s one of the big questions surrounding the game now that we’re a month out from normal spring training report dates.

Arizona’s Cactus League — home to 15 MLB teams and home to one of the highest infection rates in the country — sent a letter to MLB with support from local mayors and city managers, asking that spring training be delayed this year as the COVID-19 pandemic still rages in Arizona.

To be clear: The Cactus League itself has no say over when MLB decides to start spring training, but the Cactus League and its host cities are trying to present a unified opinion that they don’t believe spring training would be safe in February — and that the economic impact could be better in March. The letter was signed by eight mayors and city managers from Cactus League cities and the president of local Native American tribe in the Salt River area.

Among the letter’s main points:

“We are grateful to MLB for its partnership and unified in our commitment to provide a safe, secure environment; to that end, the task force has worked to ensure that ballparks are able to meet COVID-19 protocols such as pod seating, social distancing and contactless transactions. But 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.”

In response, MLB said in a statement to Yahoo Sports:

“As we have previously said publicly, we 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.”

The union, meanwhile, issued a statement highlighting MLB’s inability to change the schedule unilaterally.

The Cactus League cites an estimated 9,712 infections on Feb. 15 vs. 3,072 on March 15 as a reason to delay spring training.

This is also about money and tourism. The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin reported recently that Arizona expects out-of-state visitors to spend $168 million during spring training — even a shortened one.

Surprise Stadium is one of a handful of Cactus League stadiums in Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Surprise Stadium is one of a handful of Cactus League stadiums in Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

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