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Cactus League leaders call for MLB to delay spring training in Arizona

15 MLB Cactus League team flags are flown inside of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals spring training facility, Surprise Stadium on April 07, 2020 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Local leaders in the Phoenix metro area have called for Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training in Arizona due to Maricopa County’s high coronavirus infection rate.

In a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dated Friday, leaders said they “believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here.”

It cites data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that shows a “sharp decline” in coronavirus infections in the state by “mid-March.”

Leaders who signed the letter, including mayors, represented Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, Surprise, Glendale, Goodyear, Peoria and the Maricopa Indian Community.

“We understand that any decision to delay spring training cannot be made unliterally by MLB. As leaders charged with protecting public health, and as committed, longtime partners in the spring training industry, we want you to know that we stand united on this point,” the letter read.

“We appreciate the opportunity to offer input and thank MLB for its collaboration in assisting our facilities as they prepare for the 2021 spring training season. We welcome further discussions as needed.”

The Major League Baseball Players Association in response to the Cactus League letter said it has been assured by MLB that spring training will start as planned.

As of Sunday’s update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Arizona continued to lead the nation in average cases and deaths per capita over the last seven days.

However, the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have been trending downward since spiking to record levels two weeks ago.

Arizona’s weekly percent positivity for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, an indicator of how much the virus is spreading in the community, has fallen for three consecutive weeks but remains at a substantial level.

Of the 134,157 people tested last week, 19% received a positive result, the lowest rate since the week starting Dec. 13.

The Cactus League council that wrote the letter was formed to ensure the safety of fans at the 10 spring training facilities in the Cactus League. It said it met with MLB representatives in the past few weeks and remains committed to the safety of fans by looking into “pod seating, social distancing and contactless transactions.”

The Arizona Diamondbacks and other Cactus League teams currently plan to begin formal team workouts starting in mid-February. The D-backs’ first spring game is scheduled for Feb. 27 against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields.

The NBA’s Phoenix Suns and NHL’s Arizona Coyotes have played through the pandemic, though the Suns postponed three games due to coronavirus-related precautions related to their team a week ago.

The Suns have not allowed fans at their home games in downtown Phoenix, while the Coyotes have limited fan attendance to 3,450 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

Here is the full letter the Cactus League sent to Manfred and the MLB office.


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