Since the pandemic led to a rash of significant closures about two weeks into last year’s spring training season, nothing has been normal in professional athletics.
Such will be the case for sports fans again as the Peoria Sports Complex launches into its 27th year hosting the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres.
The good news is fans of America’s Pastime, as of press time, will be able to view live baseball games in-person this season, as players reported last week and the city readies for the opening game, 1:10 p.m. Feb. 28.
However, there will be a number of pandemic precautions in place to ensure safety this season.
A disclaimer is that more precautions or even closures could occur, pending rising metrics.
Cactus League Executive Director Bridget Binsbacher, who is also a Peoria City Council member, said in a statement that public health will weigh heavily in all spring training decisions this year, based on health guidelines.
“To be clear, the Cactus League Association does not make those decisions, but we are in constant communication with stakeholders to ensure that our 10 ballparks are prepared for any eventuality,” Ms. Binsbacher said. “We have been working closely with state, county and municipal officials so that our members have the most up-to-date information. The safety of the public is the No. 1 concern of each of our facilities.”
First and foremost, pandemic precautions mean only about 16% capacity will be allowed at the Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave., or about 1,960 fans, instead of the usual 12,518.
Peoria spokeswoman Kristina Perez said there are still details to work out, but Peoria Sports Complex staff has been in daily conversations with the teams and Major League Baseball.
Additionally, MLB decided there will be no season tickets this season because of the capacity issue and the limited number of seats available to fans, Ms. Perez said.
“Also, practices are closed to the public and the media access has been reduced significantly,” she said.
Last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB suspended spring training March 13 leading to a more than 50% decrease in economic impact.
The 2020 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.
This represented a dramatic decline from 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.
The study estimated the 2020 season would have produced impact “on a par” with the 2018 season had it not been cut short due to the pandemic.
At the time 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. Arizona’s Cactus League games drew a total of 912,956 fans in 2020, an average of 6,568 per game.
Ms. Binsbacher said 12 of the 15 clubs saw their largest crowds in what turned out to be the final week of games.
“Unfortunately, the shutdown came as we anticipated the annual influx of spring breakers to Arizona,” she said.
Booster and volunteer organizations play a big part in day-to-day operations and making spring training games run smoothly at the sports complex, and the pandemic has pushed them to adjust as well.
The Peoria Diamond Club will decrease its boots on the ground during games this season. Diamond Club General Manager Rosalind Shanley said the nonprofit will provide 60-70 volunteers per game this year, compared with a typical year, which would have about 150 volunteers a game.
Volunteers provide ushering, parking, ticket taking and some guest services at the Peoria Sports Complex, but Ms. Shanley said, there will be less job areas to cover this season.
The Diamond Club’s mission is to raise money to fund youth charities and organizations in the West Valley. Last year, it donated more than $18,000 to 10 nonprofits, such as Special Olympics of Arizona, Arizona Burn Foundation and Desert Valley Elementary School. The organization’s total giving for the 2018-19 season was $115,789 to 45 children’s charities.
Because of the pandemic, the Diamond Club canceled its biggest annual fundraiser, a charity game that is typically the first game of the spring training season.
“We will not be hosting a party for our PDC sponsors or the city dignitaries. Unfortunately, we cannot have the ceremonies of year’s past, highlighting our winter grant cycle recipients and giving out their monies on the field,” Ms. Shanley said. “Our focus of the past in fundraising during the spring training season has had to shift to year-long sponsorships that support our grant program. We will continue to serve this mission, despite the necessary spring training season changes.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.