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MLB gears up to play ball in Goodyear

Fans to be allowed in stadium for games

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What a difference a year and a pandemic make.

In February 2020, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians fans who descend on the Southwest Valley for spring training in Goodyear were looking forward to a new, high-tech scoreboard, special events days and new eats at Goodyear Ballpark.

Everything was looking good for Major League Baseball, the Cactus League, players, fans and the local communities that cater to visitors until the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shuttered ballparks and team training facilities across the Valley in mid-March.

The 2020 spring training season generated an estimated economic impact of $363.6 million, including a $213.7 million contribution to Arizona’s gross domestic product, according to a study by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. That was dramatically less than the previous ASU survey, which recorded $644.2 million in economic impact, including $373 million in gross domestic product, over the full 2018 spring training season.

When spring training was suspended, 139 of 237 scheduled Cactus League games had been played — 89 games were suspended because of the pandemic and another nine were rained out. Cactus League games in Arizona drew 912,956 fans in 2020, an average of 6,568 per game.

When the 2020 season struck out, all eyes immediately turned to 2021 in hopes the pandemic would settle down enough that things might return to “normal,” but viruses don’t play well with others.

Season opener Feb. 28 (maybe)

In January, rising cases of COVID-19 in Arizona prompted officials from the Cactus League and cities with spring training venues, including Goodyear’s Gloria Lord, to ask MLB to delay the start of spring training by a month.

READ: Cactus League, cities ask for delayed start to spring training

On Feb. 1, the MLB player’s union rejected that delay of game request.

“We are moving forward and instructing our clubs to report for an on-time start to spring training and the championship season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols,” MLB said in a statement that day, paving the way for players to arrive in Arizona in mid-February.

Games in Goodyear were scheduled to begin Saturday, Feb. 27, with the Indians and the Reds going head to head at 1:05 p.m. 

On Friday, Feb. 12, MLB released an adjusted schedule, with the teams now set to play at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28. The following day,  the Indians are scheduled to host the Kansas City Royals at 1:05 p.m.

For updates on games, which are currently scheduled to run through Monday, March 29, visit goodyearbp.com and click on Spring Training.

Can you attend a game? Yes

Fans are expected to be in the stadium itself throughout the season, though COVID-19 measures will ensure the ballpark’s more than 9,500 stadium, lawn, luxury and other seats won’t be filled even close to capacity.

Debbie Diveney, Goodyear Ballpark’s assistant general manager for marketing and business operations, said via email Feb. 5 the ballpark received approval from Major League Baseball to allow fans at the stadium at 1933 S. Ballpark Way.

“They will not be permitted into the team complexes to watch the daily workouts,” she wrote. “Per MLB protocols, attendance will be a reduced capacity and limited to pod seating of one to six tickets, and face coverings must be worn.”

The staff at Goodyear Ballpark has spent the past year developing strategies to ensure the safety of those who attend baseball games and other events in the age of COVID-19.

READ: Rock icon Alice Cooper vaccinated in Goodyear

They worked with a team of experts from HealthyVerify, an organization that reviews safety plans and disinfection protocols to certify that a venue follows best practices for minimizing the transmission of infectious diseases on their premises, achieving certification last June.

“They have approved our measures to disinfect the ballpark, so rest assured, we are following strict procedures to keep all of our employees and visitors safe,” ballpark officials announced in a statement on goodyearbp.com June 12, 2020.

In addition to the reduced seating capacity and masks mentioned by Ms. Diveney, here’s what fans can expect when they visit Goodyear Ballpark this season:

• No parking fees, eliminating the need for cash handling in the parking lots;

• Relocated gates to help fans entering and exiting the ballpark socially distance more easily;

• Ticketless entry, enabling completely contactless ticket transactions;

• Hand sanitizer stations throughout the park; and

• Touchless paper towel dispensers in restrooms.

In mid-January, the city began taking applications for volunteers to work as ticket-

takers, guest services and ushers during the season.

For season updates, tickets, promotions and fan information, visit goodyearbp.com, follow @goodyearbp on social media or visit mlb.com.

Impact to businesses

It’s difficult to predict how the 2021 spring training season will impact Southwest Valley businesses that depend on tourists for their bread and butter; it will depend on how many fans make the trek to Arizona.

Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Safin said via email Feb. 3 the chamber has received fewer requests this year from tourists and people considering relocating to the area.

“Slightly more people have been asking about living and quality of life more than vacations,” Mr. Safin said, attributing that to the initial uncertainty surrounding fan access to stadiums.

March will see sports fans in the area, however.

“Fortunately, Phoenix Raceway and NASCAR have a solid plan in place for the March NASCAR Cup Series Race,” Mr. Safin said.

“In addition to professional sports, and considering everything else happening in the world, the Southwest Valley is a terrific place to visit, vacation or move here,” he said.

 “There’s still plenty to do, see, and experience. Our local businesses are all smart and prepared to give the best service and hospitality in a safe environment.”

The Wigwam in Litchfield Park is one of those businesses Mr. Safin mentioned.

“In response to this unprecedented time, The Wigwam has had to be nimble and pivot where needed to continue to cater to our beloved guests,” General Manager Katy Powers said via email Feb. 10.

“Very early on, we took the necessary measures to reinforce safety and wellness protocols with an on-property Safety Wellness Awareness Team and received GBAC Star accreditation to give guests peace of mind without sacrificing the superb hospitality we’re known for,” Ms. Powers said. “We’ve come a long way and are appreciative of the unconditional support from the community as we all work together to help drive business to the destination.”

GBAC is the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a network of international leaders in the field of microbial-pathogenic threat analysis, mitigation and response and recovery.

The iconic, 440-acre resort at 300 E. Wigwam Blvd. draws visitors from all over the world to Litchfield Park.

To attract spring training and other visitors this year, The Wigwam is offering 20% discounts on stays that are three nights and longer. It also will offer food and drink specials Mondays through Thursdays at its restaurants and bars, and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

For more information, visit wigwamarizona.com.

Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at kosullivan@newszap.com or 760-963-1697. Peoria Independent Editor Philip Haldiman contributed to this story.

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