LOS ANGELES — For baseball fans in Southern California, nothing says spring quite like a trip to the Cactus League. Hop in the car, or on a short flight to Phoenix, and sun-drenched baseball can be yours before the Dodgers and Angels return home for the new season.
In the Cactus League, tourists are the target audience. The stadiums almost always are built at no cost to the teams, with public agencies counting on tourist dollars to provide the return on investment. Glendale, Ariz., borrowed $200 million to construct Camelback Ranch, luring the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox to that Phoenix suburb.
"It's really the fans that built the business case for why you would want to spend $200 million on a spring training complex," Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps said. "Without those fans staying in your hotel rooms and eating in your restaurants and shopping in your stores, spring training quickly becomes one of the worst business decisions you can make."
That is why some Arizona officials are hoping Major League Baseball delays the start of spring training. By waiting another month, as holiday-related coronavirus surges subside and vaccinations become more readily available, Cactus League games could be regarded as a safer and more attractive draw for tourists.
"In the current climate, right now, I think anyone would like to be able to put it off," Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher said. "But, to be clear, it's definitely not a decision that the Cactus League makes."
An MLB spokesman said Tuesday the league has not heard directly from Cactus League representatives.
The commissioner's office and the players' union have discussed postponing the regular season for a month, according to people familiar with the discussions. The two sides so far have been unable to reach agreement because the union asked the league to guarantee the contractually required 162 games of pay, either by paying players for games lost to a shortened season or by extending the season into October and the postseason into November. The league indicated its television partners prefer the postseason completed in October.
The first Cactus League games are scheduled Feb. 27. As of now, fans of the five California teams would be discouraged from attending, under state coronavirus guidance that urges California residents not to travel more than 120 miles from home — and, should they travel, to quarantine for 10 days upon their return.
"It's even worse than Southern California here right now," said Will Humble, executive director of the nonprofit Arizona Public Health Association.
The COVID-19 case rate for the last week is higher in Arizona than for any other state except Rhode Island, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.