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The Cubs should start the 2021 season at Sloan Park in Mesa

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If Wrigley Field can’t have fans, why not play in Arizona?

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Quite a number of MLB ballparks will be open to small numbers of fans to start the 2021 season. For example:

Busch Stadium in St. Louis will have up to 15,000 fans permitted, and the recent reopening of the state of Texas has raised fan hopes for the Texas Rangers:

One source indicated hope that the Rangers will be able to allow full occupancy for the start of the season. An MLB source indicated last week that teams would be responsible for adhering to their respective state and local government orders. The source also said guidance on fan attendance could change as circumstances change.

While Gov. Abbott announced the expiration of a statewide mask mandate with the executive orders, businesses may still make their own decisions on masks. A source indicated that if the Rangers do allow larger crowds, they will consider making mask-wearing mandatory.

What we have heard regarding fans at Wrigley Field (and also at Guaranteed Rate Field for the White Sox) from the city of Chicago is still uncertain, per this Tribune article:

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday that the Cubs and White Sox will be able to host fans this season.

But the mayor declined to offer a timeline on when, noting the city is “in discussions” with the city’s baseball teams and they’ll announce more details later.

“I think there will be a point, sometime this season, where you’ll see fans in the stands at both Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate Field, which I still call Sox Park,” Lightfoot said.

The 2021 season is scheduled to open in just 27 days. The Cubs are supposed to host the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field April 1, and after the Sox open the season on the West Coast, their home opener vs. the Royals is scheduled a week later, April 8.

With fewer than four weeks to go, all of this would need to be done: Preparing and cleaning Wrigley Field, hiring staff and train them (remember, no one’s worked as gameday staff at Wrigley since September 2019) and selling however many tickets they’d be permitted. Here’s a late report on what the Cubs (and Sox) have asked for:

Time is growing very short. So allow me to make a suggestion.

The Cubs have played two games at Sloan Park, with another scheduled for later today. They’ve had about 3,200 fans for both games (they’re permitted a bit more than that) and, as I wrote after Tuesday’s game, have done a good job of setting up protocols to keep fans safe.

So why not play the two scheduled April homestands at Sloan Park if no fans would be permitted at Wrigley Field? By April, perhaps Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and officials from Maricopa County and the city of Mesa might allow more fans at Sloan Park, maybe as many as 5,500 or 6,000. Obviously 6,000 isn’t the 12,000 noted in the tweet above, but it would be better than no fans at all.

Personally, I’d have no problem paying regular-season prices to see a regular-season game at Sloan Park and there are lots of Cubs fans in the Phoenix area who would certainly do the same.

Beyond that, the Sloan Park complex is a place Cubs players are familiar with. They’ve already got a clubhouse and workout facility there, and surely players could arrange a month’s housing rental somewhere in the Phoenix area. You might say, “But, Al, Cubs minor leaguers are going to start camp when the major leaguers leave, how would they have room?” I’m sure they could figure that out — especially since the Toronto Blue Jays are doing exactly this, playing for an unspecified length of time at their spring complex in Dunedin, Florida. The article explains how the Jays are going to do this, and notes that the team will be adding some lights to bring the lighting plant up to MLB standards. They’d probably have to do that in Mesa, too, as well as provide some socially-distanced areas for visiting players.

The Cubs could perhaps hire some of the Diamondbacks gameday staff to work in Mesa — there are literally zero conflicts between Cubs April 2021 home dates and D-backs April 2021 home dates.

Beyond being able to have fans in Mesa, there’s one other advantage to playing in Arizona in April — the weather. The average high temperature in the Phoenix area in April begins at 82 degrees and increases to 90 by the end of the month, but with low humidity that really isn’t too hot. Doing this would almost completely eliminate any possibility of weather postponements for Cubs April games — which is a near-certainty in Chicago.

Further, they could play these games on the Central time standard, for Chicago-area TV purposes — start day games at 11:20 a.m. (before the real heat of the day) and night games at either 4:40 or 5:05 p.m. local time, so they’d be on in prime time in Chicago.

Doing this through April would involve 15 games — three each vs. the Pirates, Braves and Mets and six (two separate series!) against the Brewers. Of those 15, six are scheduled night games — including Sunday, April 18 vs. the Braves, an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game, and that’d be fun from Sloan Park. Or, perhaps the Cubs could play the Friday games as night games in Mesa, since they wouldn’t be prohibited from doing that there. That would add three more night contests.

All of this would be a way of guaranteeing fans in the stands for a month instead of wondering when the city of Chicago will approve fans. Perhaps by May, that would be possible. The Cubs’ first homestand of May is scheduled to begin Monday, May 3 against the Dodgers.

This would, in my view, be an elegant solution to the Cubs’ desire to have fans on Opening Day. Sure, many Chicago-area fans wouldn’t be able to go to games in Mesa but if Mayor Lightfoot won’t allow fans in Chicago ballparks they couldn’t attend anyway.

I think the Cubs should investigate doing this. It’d be fun for everyone and provide the Cubs with some ticket (and food & souvenir) revenue they wouldn’t otherwise get.

Poll

The Cubs opening the season at Sloan Park in Mesa...

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Great idea! Get it done!
    (308 votes)
  • 20%
    Too logistically complicated, play at Wrigley even if it’s with no fans
    (96 votes)
  • 10%
    Don’t care either way
    (47 votes)
  • 2%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (10 votes)
461 votes total Vote Now