PHOENIX — The Kansas City Royals' spring training in Surprise, Arizona, could be delayed due to a high number of COVID-19 cases in the area, according to a letter from the Cactus League Association.
While the Cactus League is prepared to host spring training safely, the executive director, along with nine area community leaders, urged Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the current rate of cases in Maricopa County.
The first spring training games in Arizona are scheduled to begin on Feb. 27, when the Royals are scheduled to play the Texas Rangers. However, MLB has not yet revealed details on whether or not fans would be allowed inside the stadiums, and if so, how many.
"We are grateful to MLB for its partnership and unified in our commitment to provide a safe, secure environment; to that end, the task force has worked to ensure that ballparks are able to meet COVID-19 protocols such as pod seating, social distancing and contactless transactions. But in view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County – with one of the nation’s highest infection rates – we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here," the letter dated Jan. 22 said.
The letter was signed by Bridget Binsbacher, executive director of the Cactus League Association, and by the city managers or mayors of Phoenix, Tempe, Goodyear, Mesa, Surprise, Peoria, Scottsdale, Glendale, and the president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
"We felt like it was important to come together as a united voice and say, 'If there is any opportunity to delay spring training, we support that.' So, we're going to be ready for whatever the final decision is," Binsbacher said in an interview with ABC15, 41 Action News' sister station in Phoenix.
The 2020 spring training season was cut short due to the pandemic.
To date, since the pandemic began, the Arizona Department of Health Services has reported 727,895 cases of COVID-19 and 12,239 deaths. On Monday, the state reported 5,321 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.
"We understand that any decision to delay spring training cannot be made unilaterally 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.
Data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects a "sharp decline" in COVID-19 cases in Arizona by the middle of March.
Last August, the Cactus League Association said the 2020 season had an estimated economic impact of $363.6 million before its season was cut short on March 12, citing a survey from the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business
A total of 912,956 fans attended games in 2020, the Cactus League said, compared to 1,737,975 in 2019 and 1,774,978 in 2018.
MLB hadn't commented on the matter by early Monday afternoon.