Diamondbacks' spring training tickets go on sale Saturday, but when — or perhaps even if — the games will be played remains to be seen.
Major League Baseball and its players’ union are more than six weeks into a work stoppage, a dispute that represents the latest threat to the viability of the Cactus League after the pandemic wreaked havoc the previous two seasons.
The league locked out the players in early December after the sides failed to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. According to reports, negotiations have barely taken place in the weeks since, although there were plans Thursday for discussions to be held that centered on the sport’s most pressing economic issues.
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to begin reporting to camps in mid-February with games set to begin near the end of the month. In order for the Cactus League to begin without delay, the league and the union likely would need to reach an agreement sometime in mid-February.
Spring training 2022: How to get tickets to see your favorite team play in Phoenix
Two years ago, spring training came to a halt due to the onset of the pandemic, costing the state nearly $160 million in economic activity, according to an Arizona State University study. Spring training was held in full last year but with restrictions, including limits on the number of fans in attendance.
With the omicron variant of COVID-19 continuing to spread, the pandemic remains a potential hurdle — but not until the labor dispute is settled.
“I join all fans who are hopeful for an end to the lockout,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said. “The Cactus League is an important driver of the local economy, with a Valley-wide impact of $350 million each year. During the regular season, the Diamondbacks contribute another estimated $415 million to the positive effects of baseball in our communities. For the sake of our fans, and for the sake of our local businesses, let’s hope they can reach a deal.”
Mesa Mayor John Giles said he has never seen baseball’s negotiations so tense, particularly this close to spring training. He added he is choosing to be optimistic about the sides coming to an agreement, though he doesn’t believe that would assure a normal spring training.
“In the world we live in now, there’s an asterisk next to everything: subject to the pandemic,” Giles said. “No promises can be made about anything.”
Giles said he is confident the league and club officials would prioritize public health if there is spring training this year.
“You can minimize the potential for spread,” he said. “Would you do that today when the hospitalizations are at an all-time high and omicron is ubiquitous? Probably not.
“But I could reasonably see that the end of February and maybe March that people would be very comfortable going to a ballgame.”
The league and players are trying to navigate a host of issues in negotiations. Players are pushing for less time before free agency and arbitration along with increased pay earlier in careers. They want the competitive balance tax on payrolls to kick in at a higher threshold than its current $210 million level. They also want mechanisms in place to dissuade tanking.
The bargaining session held Thursday seemed to generate little to no progress, according to reports. Players were said to be disappointed by the proposal submitted by MLB; the players’ association is expected to submit a counterproposal at some point.
If the labor dispute pushes back the start of spring training, the league has recent experience speeding through its preseason preparations. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, teams were ready to start the year after just three weeks at what was called “summer camp.” The Diamondbacks played only two exhibition games that summer, both against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
The Diamondbacks are scheduled to play their first Cactus League game on Feb. 26 against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields, the facility shared by the two teams. Tickets for the Diamondbacks’ full slate of home games go on sale at 9 a.m. Saturday both online (dbacks.com/spring) and in person at Salt River Fields, where the home plate ticket office will be open until noon.
Reporters Jen Fifield and Joshua Bowling contributed to this report.