While so much of the 2021 baseball season is still up in the air, we have yet another affirmation from Major League Baseball that the 2021 spring-training campaign and the regular season will launch on time.
While you can find plenty of columnists expressing an opinion that the season is likely to be delayed, a statement from MLB reported yesterday by Evan Drellich of The Athletic makes it clear that despite COVID-19, nothing has changed:
“We have announced the dates for the start of spring training and the Championship Season,” per MLB’s statement. “As we get closer we will, in consultation with public health authorities, our medical experts, and the Players Association, determine whether any modifications should be considered in light of the current surge in COVID-19 cases and the challenges we faced in 2020 completing a 60-game season in a sport that plays every day.”
Announcing a schedule, of course, doesn’t answer all concerns, and the specifics of what will comprise spring training and the regular season remain unaddressed. How many players will be invited? Will fans be allowed in the stands, most likely on a limited basis? Will spring training be extended with a separate Minor League Baseball camp after the major leaguers depart? So much needs to be determined. But for now, the word from MLB teams is that spring training and the regular season will begin on time.
In fact, we are seeing MLB teams launching voluntary workouts at spring-training camps. In Goodyear, the Cleveland Indians are opening camp and are expecting players to report as soon as Wednesday. COVID-19 testing will commence, and potentially the first voluntary workouts could commence on Sunday. According to Cleveland.com, “other Indians players are scheduled to report on Jan. 15, Jan. 23, and Jan. 31 with testing and voluntary workouts to follow. A source said the Indians’ plan ‘is a best case scenario’ regarding testing and workouts and could change based on directives from MLB. Spring training officially opens for the Indians on Feb. 17.
Normally we’d be in full swing when it comes to spring training, with several teams already putting tickets on sale. But in the total dumpster fire that is 2020, we only have the general intention by MLB to hold spring training in 2021, with only a few teams posting game times (Orioles, Rangers, Royals and Cubs) and no teams offering single-game tickets.
So how does this fit into your spring-training planning? First, be heartened by the fact that spring training is still scheduled for February and March, that players are reporting, and Florida is a state where fans are allowed into outdoor sports venues. (Arizona, not so much at this time.) Teams and concessionaires are still planning on fans being allowed into games, but there’s no firm commitment to this plan–yet.
Complicating things are negotiations between the players union and MLB over the parameters of the 2021 season. Both sides want to see a full season, but MLB wants to launch play on a regular schedule, and the players would not mind seeing a season delay and playoffs running as late as December. The lack of progress on a plan has been a little irritating, to be sure, but it reflects the lack of progress in the battle against COVID-19: a government goal of 20 million vaccines by the end of the year has yielded only 2 million doses actually administered, and January 2021 may end up being rougher than anticipated. There have been whispers in MLB circles that spring training and the 2021 season could be delayed by a month, with Minor League Baseball players training a month after the MLB squads. A later, but longer spring-training season is definitely possible.
So our advice? Keep planning for a late February/March training-camp season, but be flexible and make no nonrefundable purchases: make sure you can cancel those hotel rooms or change those flight reservations. We’ve begun making our plans, but we’re prepared to change them immediately.
A version of this story appeared in the Ballpark Digest newsletter as well as our Spring Training Online newsletter. Do you subscribe? Both newsletters are free. You can sign up for the pair, as well as other August Publications newsletters, here.