MLB Opens New-Look Spring Training
Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers report this week, full squads will make their way to Florida and Arizona beginning the following Monday, and by Feb. 27, we’ll have exhibition baseball. Baseball begins for real on April 1, and online sportsbooks have the Los Angeles Dodgers as the heavy World Series favorite.
It all sounds normal and like baseball has been doing since baseball began. But this is the first spring training since the pandemic began, and clubs will be forced to operate a little differently.
Size of Rosters
When it comes to staying a healthy six feet away from one another, less is more. Each team has a limit of 75 players that it can invite to camp, hoping to keep the facilities far less crowded than normal.
When you add in minor league players, of course, each team has many more than 75 players under contract, so this year’s spring training will be staggered. The start of the minor league season has been pushed back, allowing MLB and Triple-A players the first window of spring training, followed by players at the Double-A and all A levels, after the higher level players break camp.
There will also be a five-day delay imposed between the report date and any actual workouts, so if there are any players infected with COVID-19 when they arrive at camp, they can be isolated before working out with the rest of the team.
Spring Training Schedules
Limiting travel during the 2020 regular season and then playing the postseason in hubs was a big success. So baseball is going to replicate it as much as it can during the spring.
Cactus League games are all fairly close around the Phoenix area, so the spring training schedule there will proceed as normal. But Florida has teams in a number of different locations.
Grapefruit League teams will be split into two hubs – one on the east of Florida and one on the West Coast. This will limit travel, and ideally, it will limit exposure and any potential outbreaks. It will also limit the teams on Florida’s East Coast to four fewer games, but that can be made up with intrasquad competitions.
Fans in the Stands
Major League Baseball and its 30 teams have plans to allow a limited number of fans to attend games when the regular season begins on April 1. Tickets will be sold in pods and with family members, similar to how they were issued during the World Series.
With each city and state being different, most of the decision-making on just how many fans is being left up to the individual teams.
That is also happening for spring training games. For its 14 games in Sarasota, Baltimore plans to sell 1,800 tickets in pods that have a distance of at least six feet.
The Tigers play in a 10,000-seat ballpark and plan to limit seating to around 20%. The Twins will be at 28% capacity, which allows close to 2,400 fans at each game.