By Regina Burgess
Photos Alina Nelson

Batter up. Mask up.

Despite an offseason that suggested a delay to the start of spring training, Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers kicked off games on February 27.

Arizona is home to 10 stadiums where 15 Cactus League teams prepare for the regular season each year. Last month, MLB’s Players Association rejected a proposal by the league to postpone the start of spring ball because of COVID-19 concerns.

Major League Baseball did not announce a blanket policy because many of the decisions are determined by individual municipalities. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all of the Major League Baseball spring training stadiums will operate at significantly reduced capacities with a reduced number of fans at each game. Although, as of press time, few teams released specific details of attendance plans, most are expected to follow guidelines similar to the ones the City of Tempe announced recently. Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring home of the Los Angeles Angels, will open at 25% capacity. This would allow 1,800 to 2,000 guests to attend the games.

On February 19, the City of Peoria also shared their plans for the Peoria Sports Complex, home to the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

“While health and safety are clearly at the top of the list of the most important aspects of our lives, baseball is a close second,” says Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat. “We are excited to welcome the Mariners and the Padres back to their spring training home and I am proud to see that we have developed a plan that allows fans to safely enjoy America’s favorite pastime at the Peoria Sports Complex.”

The Peoria Sports Complex will host 1,960 fans, 16% of the total stadium capacity. To ensure MLB safety protocols, a seating pod system will be employed in the stadium that encourages physical distancing to allow households and immediate family members to sit together. Tickets will be sold in “pods” of one to four tickets for the seating bowl. Berm seating will be sold in pods of two, four or six tickets. Locations for the pods will be clearly marked and physically distanced from other pods. Fans who would like to attend a game can expect the following changes at Peoria Sports Complex (and likely other sports venues, too):
• Facial masks will be required for everyone two years old and older throughout the stadium except when actively eating and drinking in their designated seats.
• Practices and Autograph Alley will be closed to the public.
• Hand-sanitizing stations throughout the ballpark.
• No season and group tickets available.
• The stadium will be a cashless facility, using credit or debit payments only at the ticket office and concession stands.
• Parking will be complimentary and tailgating will be prohibited.
• Employees will complete COVID-19 symptom screenings prior to their shifts.
• Some games may be shortened from the typical nine innings to seven or five innings, upon mutual agreement of both managers.

In addition to these changes, the Peoria Sports Complex will offer an engaging virtual fan experience for all spring training fans. Other venues are expected to do the same.

As of press time, The San Francisco Giants said in a statement that it will sell between 750-1,000 tickets for each game played at Scottsdale Stadium, which has a capacity of 12,000 fans. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs say they have received the OK from the City of Mesa, Maricopa County and the state to operate at 25% capacity for all games to be held at Sloan Park.

Players and team personnel are required to adhere to new rules set by MLB, which released its health and safety protocols for the 2021 season. Players will be required to wear face coverings at all times, with the only exception for players on the field or during pregame warmups. Additionally, mandatory five-day at-home quarantine before reporting to spring training was expected, and players and other on-field personnel will continue to be tested at least every other day throughout the spring.

Regina Burgess and Alina Nelson both work for Cronkite News.