UPDATE 2/15: Spring Training tickets go on sale February 18.
At the last sporting event I attended on March 10, 2020, I took the following picture:
It felt eerily ominous at the time. There were few if any masks in the crowd. People were mostly milling around casually like it was a normal Cactus League game. I kept moving around the stadium and stayed away from mass gatherings for the most part. Still, it felt like the plague was looming in the distance.
Sure enough, two days later, the NHL, NBA and MLB suspended operations. That canceled spring training for baseball and left uncertainty around basketball and hockey, whose regular seasons were near their respective ends. Though I felt it coming and I mentally braced for the impact, the news was no less shocking. The waiting was, well, you know.
Summer came, the big pro sports leagues started their truncated seasons, and ended them largely without fans. By the time the first 2021 spring games are played on February 27, the United States will probably surpass 500,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Last week, being what someone called an ARAF (Arizona Resident Athletics Fan), I decided to drop by Fitch Park and Hohokam Stadium to see what was going on in preparation for Cactus League. The D-backs and Rockies chose to jump the gun, announcing presages of tickets at the beginning of the month before Maricopa County temporarily put the kibosh on that. MLB is trying to experiment with having partial crowds, up to 25% of normal capacity (Spring Training ballparks typically have a 10,000-seat capacity). MLB even tried an 11th-hour deal of postponing the start of the spring in exchange for a slightly shorter regular season and expanded postseason. That fell on its face, so here we are with the season as scheduled, fingers crossed everywhere.
The last couple of years I parked near the Mesa Convention Center, where I could easily park and charge my tiny electric vehicle while watching a game/batting practice at Hohokam or Fitch. The entire parking lot where I normally would park was transformed into a large free COVID testing site run by ASU. I imagine it will become a vaccination site when supplies are ready.
Last March I was worried about the remainder of 2020. Still, I was happy that I got to watch some baseball during the spring. Fans didn’t get to watch any games at the Coliseum last year, but I got a taste and given everything we experienced in 2020, that was enough. If the A’s offer a Spring Pass again as they did last year, I might buy in even if I may not attend many (or any) games. Heaven knows the team could use every bit of revenue it can get.
As for actually going to the games or practices, I’m still uncertain. I expect Fitch to have very limited or no access to fans. I felt like a kid walking along the corridors at Fitch last week, no one else around except the City of Mesa groundskeepers. I exchanged greetings with one as he drove by on a riding mower. Hohokam may go with the trend of 25% capacity, masked and spaced out as we saw with football games towards the end of the NFL season. The situation remains fluid, so there’s a chance they won’t allow fans at all per city ordinance. Scottsdale has been far more loose with the regulations than the other Cactus League cities, who have generally followed Maricopa County guidelines, though Scottsdale’s cavalier attitude is changing with a new mayor and city council in office. And yes, I still drive around Old Town Scottsdale daily and see uncovered faces everywhere.
On a related note, the A’s old spring home Phoenix Municipal Stadium is a vaccine site.
In any event, pitchers and catchers report in a week. Position players a week after that. Many of them are already here. I might see an A’s spring game or two at the end of February or early March. I may wait until the regular season starts and the A’s drop by Chase Field to play the D-backs on April 12-13. Or I might wait until I get vaccinated, which would be the safest route. I have a doctor’s appointment in late March which should guide me. Maricopa County’s vaccination schedule looks like this:
Maybe I’ll watch games from the beyond the left field fence if it’s allowed. Who needs an actual seat anyway?
The more I think about it, I can’t imagine a better way to spend part of an afternoon. With no one in spitting distance, of course.