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Some Cactus League officials want Spring Training to be delayed

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It’s a good idea, but MLB is pressing forward with an on-time start.

Al Yellon

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office sent a memo to all 30 teams telling them to prepare for an on-time start to Spring Training and the regular season.

Whether or not this happens, preparing for this is a good idea. If MLB can somehow do that, it’s good to be prepared.

With Arizona in particular being a hotspot for COVID-19 cases, it might be a good idea to delay Spring Training and the season, and according to Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times, some folks connected with Arizona spring training want exactly that:

“It’s really the fans that built the business case for why you would want to spend $200 million on a spring training complex,” Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps said. “Without those fans staying in your hotel rooms and eating in your restaurants and shopping in your stores, spring training quickly becomes one of the worst business decisions you can make.”

That is why some Arizona officials are hoping Major League Baseball delays the start of spring training. By waiting another month, as holiday-related coronavirus surges subside and vaccinations become more readily available, Cactus League games could be regarded as a safer and more attractive draw for tourists.

“In the current climate, right now, I think anyone would like to be able to put it off,” Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher said. “But, to be clear, it’s definitely not a decision that the Cactus League makes.”

This is all correct. The Cactus League isn’t an official arm of MLB; instead, it’s an association of local booster groups and others in the Phoenix area that helps to promote Spring Training and travel to the area for games.

Right now, not only is attendance at spring games likely to be strictly limited if it happens at all, but MLB also announced this in its memo to teams:

Fans will not be permitted to watch morning workouts or other pregame activities “unless those events are held in the ballpark under the same seating plan as for games.”

So you can forget about going to the back fields in Mesa (or any other spring location) to watch player workouts.

In The Athletic earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal reported that some team owners would like to see the season delayed — but not shortened:

The idea is this: Start spring training in April and the regular season in May and play a normal, 162-game schedule that extends through October. The postseason would take place in November at warm-weather neutral sites, just as the final three rounds did last season.

As reported last week, the problem with such a plan is that television networks want their sports partners to resume their normal schedules, which for MLB would mean concluding the World Series on Fox by Nov. 1. Viewership numbers, ad sales and sponsorships all were affected by altered and overlapping sports schedules in 2020.

I understand both positions here. On the other hand, the NBA, which started play about three weeks ago, has already had nine postponements and has had discussions about “pausing” their season, though for now they continue as scheduled.

The delayed start might be problematic for MLB’s TV partners, but it could accomplish two things for team owners:

  • Eliminate April dates in cold-weather cities, likely reducing postponements, and
  • Giving the league a much better chance of having more fans in attendance as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19

In fact, there’s a reasonable argument for pushing MLB’s regular season back on a permanent basis, perhaps starting in mid- to late April and finishing up in mid-November. That’s an article for another day, though.

For now, MLB’s position, per Rosenthal:

Start on schedule unless state or federal government agencies require that plan to change.

“As always, we await developments.”