Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher — along with prominent backing from the Phoenix city manager and the mayors of the cities of Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, and Tempe — sent a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday asking to delay the start of spring training due to the infection rate of COVID-19 in Maricopa County, AZ.
The Cactus League is made up of half of MLB’s teams: the Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Athletics, Cubs, White Sox, Reds, Indians, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Royals, Brewers, Mariners, and Rangers. All play their games at 10-different facilities within the greater-Phoenix area.
“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 the state of the COVID-19 situation to improve here,” the letter, shared by NBC’s Brahm Resnik, read.
Spring training is slated to begin in mid-February, leaving just three weeks for the COVID numbers in the area to improve before pitchers and catchers report. According to Cactus League representation, that is not feasible at this time.
On Feb. 15, there will be an estimated 9,712 daily infections in the area as compared to 3,072 on March 15, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health and Metrics and Evaluation.
Pushing spring training back to mid-March would likely force Major League Baseball to push back Opening Day, which is slated for April 1. Two weeks simply wouldn’t be enough time to get players ready for the grind of a 162-game season.
The Cactus League does not have the authority to delay spring training, which ultimately would come down to Manfred and Major League Baseball with pressure and guidance from local government and health officials.
MLB’s health-and-safety protocols still remain murky with the league fresh off a 60-game season shortened by COVID-19. Manfred sent a memo to teams earlier this month that they should be preparing for a 162-game season, but some executives and owners have stated a desire to delay the start of the 2021 campaign to ensure everyone involved can be vaccinated. It would also increase the chances for fans to get back in the ballparks and re-spark baseball’s hurting economy.
The stance of the Grapefruit League, which hosts the other 15 MLB teams around Florida including the Mets and Yankees, remains unknown.