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Changes coming to spring training?

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report next week. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it.

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Milwaukee Brewers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We now stand on the edge of the scheduled start of spring training. However - and maybe it’s just me - but it all feels rather uncertain. Part of the reason for this is the curious stop/start about ticket sales. On Tuesday last week, I got an email from Salt River Fields, including a promo code for their pre-sale, which was scheduled to start the following morning. It was, obviously, going to be a very different spring training. According to their site:

  • All guests will be required to wear masks at all times, except when they are actively eating/drinking in their seats.
  • Salt River Fields is a CASHLESS facility. No cash will be accepted at any time.
  • Players will not be able to sign autographs before or during the game.
  • No smoking of any kind including vaping.
  • No spitting of any kind (tobacco, sunflower seeds, etc.)
  • All bags are prohibited inside the stadium to minimize contact in the security screening process.
  • Tickets will be sold in 2, 4 & 6 groups or “pods” to help maximize social distancing within the stadium.
  • Pods will be spaced at least 6 feet away from each other.
  • Seats within 6 feet of the warning track and 12 feet from the dugouts will not be sold for all games.

But then, on Friday - not so much:

Since then, there has been no update. We’re now 18 days from the first scheduled game, against (as ever!) the Rockies. It’s not just the D-backs, of course. Other teams are still similarly on hold, though I note the Cubs were given the go-ahead to allow fans into Sloan Park at one-quarter of its normal capacity, which would be around 3,750. If a similar figure was applied to Salt River Fields, that would mean about 2,750 fans in attendance.

Part of the reason for the delay may be the schedule is potentially subject to change. Over the weekend. Ken Rosenthal said that the Grapefruit League in Florida will be revising its schedule, apparently in a bid to reduce team travel:

Now, it is true that the Grapefruit League is considerably more widely spread than the Cactus League, whose teams are all more or less in the Phoenix area. But I do wonder if a similar plan will be executed, dividing teams up into east and west “divisions”, for the same purpose - to minimize travel and mixing. The resulting changes to the schedule would certainly explain the sudden yanking of ticket sales. I suspect figuring this out is likely still under way. I imagine the limitations on attendance, and the situation in general, will definitely mean spring training visitors to Arizona will take a substantial hit this year.

Rosenthal also wrote about the new health protocols for the 2021 season on The Athletic. I was quite impressed by the strictness of the rules - and this year, they have teeth, with players “subject to potential discipline for violating the protocols, including suspensions or forfeiture of salary if they miss time.” It begins with a five-day in-home quarantine period before reporting to spring training. On arrival, there’s an intake screening “of at least a temperature check, PCR test and rapid antibody test”. Those in the program will then be tested “at least every other day” thereafter. They are also severely restricted as to their off-time activities:

Individuals may not attend or enter any of the following events or establishments:

  • Indoor gatherings of ten or more people.
  • Indoor restaurants or dining areas.
  • Bars, lounges, clubs or like establishments.
  • Fitness and wellness centers not affiliated with the club or MLB. Players also must not invite personal trainers into their home or see them on the road.
  • Entertainment venues.
  • Gaming and other venues, including bowling alleys, arcades, casinos and pool halls.

Players will also be obliged to wear a contact tracking device, though the protocol states that any information obtained from this “may not be used to discipline a player”! So that’s nice. :) With regard to vaccinations, “MLB and MLBPA will work with public health authorities on issues related to the availability and timing of vaccinations for players, staff and other individuals subject to these protocols. An individual can receive an FDA-authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccination on his or her own if otherwise eligible under applicable laws or regulations.” Vaccinations will not be required, but are “strongly encouraged”.

Hopefully, these protocols will prove effective, and MLB will be able to get through the season without problems like the Marlins outbreak from last year.