DUNEDIN, FL. – A little morning chill yields to warm afternoons, the scent of freshly mowed grass, the crack of the bat and the sound of a catcher’s mitt popping.
Ah, yes, there is nothing like spring training.
After the schedule of games was abruptly halted in 2020 followed by the attendance limitations of 2021, this was the year that spring training would once again attract fans from far and wide and without restrictions.
How about seeing the Yankees train in Tampa? Or the Blue Jays in Dunedin? Perhaps the Phillies in Clearwater? Maybe it’s the Tigers in Lakeland or the Rays down in Port Charlotte?
No matter the team and the town, there is nothing like spending a sun-splashed afternoon watching players prepare for the upcoming season. It is a time when optimism overflows and fills the air like the aforementioned sounds and scents. That’s what makes spring training what it is.
Unless, of course, there is no spring training.
Thanks to the colossal disgrace that is the bickering between owners and players, neither side of which is hurting from the rise in gas prices and an inflation rate that has reached 7.5 percent, spring training complexes throughout the Sunshine State and Arizona are void of baseball activity that would have commenced this week.
As if we have not had enough in the way of various work stoppages the past couple of years, MLB and the players, instead of giving everybody something to feel good about and look forward to, go the other direction in making the National Pastime a National Letdown.
How about the businesses in spring training towns that were hurt by the shutdown in 2020 and attendance restrictions of a year ago?
Nah, MLB and the players’ union cannot be bothered thinking about the family-owned eateries and small businesses that were looking forward to a refreshingly normal spring. Or the stadium concession workers and the like who depend on spring training for a decent amount of their income, and who were likewise eager for games at venues that would be packed once again.
Fans? Maybe some owners and players were perfectly fine with cardboard cutouts representing those who are the consumers and pour big-time bucks (tickets, souvenirs, apparel, cable TV, and internet) into the game to make it all possible to begin with. It is not like the money owners and players reap grows on trees, though you can’t help but wonder if some feel as though it does.
Players do not draw paychecks until the regular season begins. Hence, there is no urgency on their part to move the needle. Sadly, there appears to be no urgency on the part of anybody.
Maybe the owners and players can come to an agreement, or at least see eye to eye on enough points of interest that allow camps to open and the schedule of Grapefruit League and Cactus League games to be unaffected, or perhaps only minimally so. Let’s hope that is the case. (While both sides are to be blamed, remember, it is the owners who locked out the players. As such, the owners can lift the lockout while the sides continue to negotiate.)
Issues of concern range from service time manipulation – see Kris Bryant in 2015, Ronald Acuna in 2018, and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. in 2019 as examples – to when a player can become a free agent (currently after six years of MLB service, the players want five) and arbitration-eligible (currently after three years, the players want two) to the competitive balance tax (off by about $30 million).
The union feels owners can afford to be more player-friendly, if you will, given that, according to Forbes, the average team was valued at $1.9 billion in 2021. It is a valuation that would seem to continue to be going nowhere but up especially as revenue streams grow bigger and bolder, such as $12 billion over the next seven seasons (2022-2028) coming from ESPN, Turner, and Fox to broadcast games. Gambling? Players want their share coming from a spigot that has been flowing freely.
Again, neither side is hurting and it is entirely unpardonable that it has come to a lockout that is 80 days in length since the collective bargaining agreement expired December 1.
While the finger-pointing and squabbling continues, spring training complexes remain quiet and those who depend on paychecks from working at stadiums, venues that would welcome full capacity once again, can only wonder if they will hear the call of “play ball” anytime soon.