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Cactus League recommends delaying MLB spring training in Arizona

Spring training is scheduled to start on time, but that is no guarantee. (Getty)

If things had looked a little too normal heading into 2021 MLB spring training, that came to an end Monday morning. It has been revealed that the spring home for 15 clubs has asked that MLB postpone the start of spring training.

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Due to the rising COVID-19 infection rate in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the Cactus League has requested the delay. The request came in a letter from the Cactus League to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and was obtained by a Phoenix television station, revealing that leaders of the eight cities and one tribal community that house the 10 Cactus League spring training facilities met with representatives from MLB last week.

The Seattle Mariners share a spring training home with the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Ariz., which is one of those 10 spring training facilities in Maricopa County. The county currently holds the highest infection rate in the country, but as pointed out in the letter, the area could see relief on the near horizon with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projecting a sharp decline in infections by mid-March.

The letter is a recommendation, not a demand, as the Cactus League itself does not have the authority to dictate the start of spring training. Arizona has been largely open to sports with everything from the NHL to high school teams permitted to play, some with fans in the stands. The difference with spring training which was no doubt taken into account with the city leaders who signed the letter would be the influx of people from the outside descending on the area which potentially could have a negative impact on public health and safety. Another major consideration: the economic impact spring training tourism provides the area, as outlined in this Arizona Republic article.

The letter acknowledged that MLB does not have the unilateral authority to delay spring training, in a statement released Monday afternoon, and the MLBPA said it has yet to hear from the Cactus League.

While the numbers in Arizona have snuck up on absolutely nobody, the official word from MLB and teams has for weeks has been that they are preparing for an on-time start. At the same time, there has been little resolution with the MLBPA on the health and safety issues, with MLB in December broaching the subject of a delayed start but going no further when reportedly told that the season would either need to be extended or players paid for 162 games regardless of length of season.

The letter appears to present a new wrinkle in the “preparing for an on-time start,” but for now MLB stays on course, releasing the following statement Monday afternoon.

“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 gameday personnel in a sport that plays every day.”

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