Cactus League exec: ‘We’ll be ready’ for fans, regardless of spring start date

Jan 25, 2021, 1:08 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm

FILE - Cubs fans take photos through the locked gates at Sloan Park, the spring training site of th...

FILE - Cubs fans take photos through the locked gates at Sloan Park, the spring training site of the Chicago Cubs, in Mesa, Ariz., after Major League Baseball suspended the rest of its spring training game schedule because of the coronavirus outbreak, in this Friday, March 13, 2020, file photo. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher remains hopeful fans will be able to attend spring training.

Whether that’s at the start of the Major League Baseball preseason or if the league could take the Cactus League leaders’ request and push back spring training altogether remains to be seen.

MLB, as of Monday, remains in line to begin as planned, with teams gathering in mid-February and games beginning in the final few days of the month.

Binsbacher and members of a Cactus League committee representing all eight locales and all 10 spring training facilities in the Phoenix area wrote a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred last week, asking for a delay to spring training in Arizona due to the state’s high coronavirus infection numbers.

“I think there’s no doubt that spring training is going to look different as far as fans go. We’re hopeful,” Binsbacher told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday. “At the forefront of everything we do is public health and safety, but we do believe that we could, with the necessarily protocols in place, be prepared for a safe spring training whether it starts on the 27th or after that.

“I think the trends are definitely moving us in the right direction.”

In the letter to MLB, the Cactus League leaders cite 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.

There is not specific date the Cactus League is targeting for an ideal start date.

“Any additional time that any of us have with a vaccine coming out and being administered — any additional times means more time for the situation to improve,” Binsbacher said. “We see it improving now, and we’re very hopeful it’ll continue to improve and we’ll be able to welcome fans back into the stands to spring training.

“We’ll be ready for whatever day that is.”

Binsbacher said her committee has discussed pod seating that takes into account Center for Disease Control guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That could look different at each Cactus League stadium, she said.

The executive director added that while her group has not projected the potential financial losses if spring training were delayed or played on time, an economic report from 2020’s abruptly canceled spring training details the gravity of the financial impact.

The Cactus League played 139 of 237 scheduled games last spring before the pandemic. That contributed an estimated economic impact of $363.6 million with a $213.7 million contribution to Arizona’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a study done by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University.

In 2018’s study, the Cactus League contributed an estimated $644 million and $373 million to the state’s gross GDP.

“I will say that MLB has been great at hearing our input from the Cactus League, from all of our host cities. I wish we could say there’s a specific date (for a decision) … it’s very fluid,” Binsbacher said. “We’re just trying to stay as closely connected as we possibly can.”

Now the Cactus League board awaits a response from MLB, which of course will be navigating any changes to its original schedule by also listening to its players union, television broadcast partners and its Florida spring training league, the Grapefruit League.

The MLBPA said in a statement after the Cactus League’s letter was publicized that MLB has assured the union spring would start on time.

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