The Cactus League and Arizona community leaders have asked Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training due to coronavirus concerns just over three weeks before pitchers and catchers are supposed to report.

The Cactus League made the request in a letter to Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred obtained by The Associated Press on Monday. The letter was co-signed by the mayors of Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise, Glendale, Goodyear and Peoria, as well as representatives from Phoenix and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

MLB said in a statement that it “will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts, and the Players Association whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of Spring Training and the Championship Season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees and other game day personnel in a sport that plays every day.”

Arizona is averaging just under 7,000 new coronavirus cases per day, but the Cactus League cited data in its letter from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation projecting a sharp decline in infections by mid-March, down to as few as 3,072 daily. Spring camps are set to open the week of Feb. 15, with the regular season set to start on April 1.

Despite the roiling case numbers, the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes are hosting 3,450 fans for home games in Glendale, while the NBA’s Phoenix Suns are playing without fans. High school sports are also still operating. The Cactus League hosts 15 MLB clubs.

In a sign that other teams are moving forward with preseason plans, the spring training home in Jupiter, Florida, shared by the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins announced Monday it will begin selling tickets for spring games beginning Feb. 1. Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium said 2021 tickets will be sold in seating pods of two, four or six spaced six feet apart throughout the stadium.

Any changes to the major league schedule are subject to agreement with the players’ association per terms of their collective bargaining agreement. A person familiar with talks between the sides said MLB asked the union in November about moving back Opening Day a month to create a safer playing environment, possibly spurred by the availability of the vaccine.

The union asked if the postseason could be moved back to make up the 30 or so missed games, or if the league would pay players for the missed games if they weren’t made up. The league declined, saying it wouldn’t push the postseason deep into November over broadcast concerns and wouldn’t pay players for missed games.

Talks stalled there, and no formal proposals about altering opening day have been exchanged.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Monday because the discussions were considered private.

BRAVES: Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has signed a minor league contract with Atlanta.

Sandoval would receive a $1 million, one-year contract if he is added to the team’s 40-man roster under a deal the Braves confirmed.

The 34-year-old Sandoval hit .214 in 84 at-bats with the Braves and San Francisco Giants in 2020. He had no hits in two at-bats with Atlanta but was kept on the team’s postseason roster, and he had no hits in four plate appearances.

Sandoval, whose nickname is Kung Fu Panda, will try to prove he can return to the form he showed in 2019, when he hit .268 with 14 homers with the Giants. The 2012 World Series MVP with San Francisco signed with the Braves late last season following his release by the Giants on Sept. 10, ending his second stint with the team.

Austin Riley will enter spring training as the favorite to start at third base for the Braves. Riley also is an option in left field.

The switch-hitting Sandoval has a career .279 batting average with 149 home runs in 13 seasons with the Giants, Boston and Atlanta. He hit .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBI for San Francisco in 2009, his second season.


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