DAN BICKLEY

Arizona opens doors to major sports leagues looking to resume

May 12, 2020, 6:06 PM

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 28, 2020, file photo, a darkened Chase Field, home of the Arizona Dia...

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 28, 2020, file photo, a darkened Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks of baseball's National League, sits empty. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Arizona is open for business. After May 15, we’re also open for fun and games, a certified playground for professional sports.

This is a monumental, aggressive, risky step from our local government. With cases still rising at uncomfortable levels in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey is allowing pro sports teams to play real games in our state as long as no fans are in the stands. He is banking on hostile weather weakening the legs of a pandemic, that nothing of this world can survive our heat.

I like his odds.

Seriously. We are world champions of social distancing in the summertime. You don’t have to ask us twice. You can’t pay us to go outside. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Times Square in a pandemic. But if you really want to know what it’s like inside a ghost town, trying driving through Scottsdale on the Fourth of July, when everyone is hermetically sealed or vacationing in California.

Ducey’s measures also come at a perfect time for Major League Baseball, throwing a life preserver to a sport suddenly losing hope for a 2020 season. Ducey is officially throwing out invitations to all 30 teams, offering a sanitized bubble, if safety is truly their No. 1 concern.

More realistically, he’s making it clear that the Angels, Dodgers, Giants and A’s can play home games at their respective Cactus League stadiums, if necessary, if players and owners can settle their spat over compensation.

Ducey’s actions confirm that Arizona is a safe haven for the NFL. It means the Cardinals can start training camp on time. It means Kyler Murray can start throwing passes to DeAndre Hopkins on the sly without fear of being busted.

The Cardinals might also be asked to share their facility with the 49ers, while the other two California franchises relocate to Las Vegas and Denver, respectively.

Health clubs also re-open on Wednesday, and Ducey’s measures make it possible for the Suns to start practicing again. But I don’t sense any real interest from our NBA team, an organization that would be forced to relocate to Veterans Memorial Coliseum to play out a season that will not feature a playoff berth. Yeah, no thanks. The Suns probably want out of this season as soon as possible, returning to a new practice facility and a refurbished arena.

To the surprise of many, professional sports had already returned to the Valley on Tuesday, when Scottsdale resident Nate Lashley shot an 8-under par to take the first-round lead of the Scottsdale AZ Open, a non-PGA Tour event taking place at Talking Stick Golf Club.

Lashley is a Cinderella story. While playing at the University of Arizona, he tragically lost his parents and girlfriend when their single-engine plane crashed in bad weather. Last summer, at age 36 and ranked 353rd in the world, he won his first PGA Tour event, demolishing the field by six strokes at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

On Tuesday, he was among the first wave of athletes to return to a familiar sport in a strange new world.

In recent weeks, it’s been very common for PGA Tour professionals to commute from California and play practice rounds in Arizona, where golf was deemed an essential business. Non-sporting types laughed at that designation, but truth is, golf can be (and was) played at a safe distance. Local courses showed great caution and hygiene in providing a valuable diversion for many Arizonans, who in turn showed great respect for the effort.

But now, the welcome mat is out, and so is the message coming from Arizona: Give us your stifled, your suppressed, your sports teams that need temporary lodging and your sports leagues that need terra firma.

We’ll leave the light on for you.

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