Giants pitchers and catchers are expected to arrive for physicals for spring training in Scottsdale in three weeks, on Feb. 15. It would be a good idea for everyone involved to make sure to buy flight insurance.
Officials from the Cactus League and leaders around Arizona have asked Major League Baseball to push back the start of spring training as Maricopa County is struggling with the coronavirus, home to one of the highest infection rates in the country.
The league serves as the spring home for 15 teams, including the Giants, who play at Scottsdale Stadium. The mayor of Scottsdale was among the leaders of the eight Cactus League cities to sign the letter, which was first reported by KPNX.
The Giants are scheduled to host their first full-squad workouts Feb. 21 and open the Cactus League play Feb. 27.
“The desired date for a decision [to delay or not] long passed,” Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher said with a laugh Monday.
Major League Baseball does not have unilateral control over spring training, as the Players Association would have to accept any postponement, too. The union, which affirmed its desire for a safe spring training with its own statement, reportedly is against a delay unless MLB can guarantee the players would be compensated for a 162-game season. MLB reps met with leaders from the Cactus League cities and tribal community last week.
“As we have previously said publicly,” MLB said in a statement Monday, “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 gameday personnel in a sport that plays every day.”
The Cactus League’s letter cited public data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations that projects a “sharp decline in infections in Arizona by mid-March (an estimated 9,712 daily infections on February 15 and 3,072 daily infections on March 15).”
There have been about 453,000 cases in Maricopa County and nearly 7,000 deaths.
“In light of the fact that the situation was peaking in Arizona and there was talk of potentially postponing or delaying the season, we felt like it was a good idea for all of us to come together and voice our support for a possible delay in the season,” Binsbacher said over the phone.
Binsbacher said that “public health and safety and not the economic concerns” are guiding their hesitation, though the longer spring training would be delayed, the better the chances that cities can appreciate the boon of spring-training customers arriving in ballparks.
The last data available, from Arizona State University’s school of business, estimated that the 2018 spring training in Arizona resulted in a $644 million local economic impact.
The focus, she said, is creating the best possible experience for fans, who would be more comfortable as vaccines are distributed and infection rates go down.