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Seattle Mariners to reopen spring training facility in Arizona

UPDATED: Fri., May 22, 2020

Seattle Mariners’ Connor Lien, left, and Mitch Nay stop to sign autographs before a spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Peoria, Ariz. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners’ Connor Lien, left, and Mitch Nay stop to sign autographs before a spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Peoria, Ariz. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – After more than 60 days of inactivity, the locked doors of the Mariners’ spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona, will reopen to a limited number of players and staff.

General manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed via text message that the organization is working through the final preparations to open the complex to individual and small group workouts on Monday or Tuesday.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey helped make this a possibility on May 12, announcing that the state was open to the return of professional sports last Saturday.

“Of course, this would be with CDC guidelines and protecting public health,” Ducey told the local media in a news conference following the announcement. “We have had discussions with leaders of some of these leagues, and they all know they are welcome to operate, play and perform in the state of Arizona.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former college baseball player, also made a similar announcement on May 13.

“All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Tallahassee. “What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida.”

The Marlins and Cardinals both reopened their spring training facilities in Jupiter, Florida, under heavy restrictions, while the Rays have reopened Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, for workouts with similar guidelines.

As of now, Mariners players have not been instructed to return to Arizona. Any workouts would be voluntary and closely monitored to maintain social distancing rules. The Mariners closed the complex to everyone on March 19 after Major League Baseball announced that all group workouts would be banned and the season was going to be delayed indefinitely.

Dipoto wasn’t sure how many would begin returning to Arizona with the complex open. Some players had yet to hear about the facility being open. But many, who are stuck working out at home in the most basic of ways, would be happy to return to the facility to ramp up training and conditioning with hopes of spring training 2.0 starting in early June and the 2020 starting in the first days of July.

“No sense for that yet, but there are so many guys in the area already that I’d imagine we see lots of them,” Dipoto said.

In the days after baseball shut down due the spread of coronavirus, many players stayed in Arizona after spring training was halted, hoping for a quick return and the idea of using the facilities to work out during the break. But many others headed to their offseason homes once the facility was closed. Some like Yusei Kikuchi have remained while others like shortstop J.P. Crawford live there in the area in the offseason.

Does this reopening mean that the Mariners would have spring training 2.0 in Arizona if an agreement between the owners and MLB Players’ Association is reached in the next week or two?

Not necessarily.

The current proposed plan has the option of teams hosting spring training at their normal facility or doing it at their home stadiums. There are pros and cons to each situation.

There are some indications that the Mariners would go to Arizona because of the advantages of the Peoria facility, which features six diamonds, three large bullpen setups with two smaller bullpens, two massive clubhouses, a significantly larger weight room and training facility compared to T-Mobile Park in Seattle. The ability to control social distancing, follow guidelines and provide player safety could be easier to do in Arizona.

“We will wait to see what our true options are before making that decision,” Dipoto said when asked about the situation.

With the state of Washington reopening in phases based on testing data and King County still locked into Phase 1 where groups of five or more people are not allowed to congregate, the Mariners couldn’t hold a viable spring training. A jump to Phase 2 where groups of 10 people or less would be allowed might make it possible, but still difficult. Any special concessions made for the Mariners or other pro sports teams made by Gov. Jay Inslee or Mayor Jenny Durkan would likely be met with a fair amount of consternation.

With at least 50 players, coaching staff and support staff needed to have a spring training, trying to make a spring training work in the limited confines of T-Mobile Park would be difficult. Any use of external, nonaffiliated fields would be subject to weather and other guidelines.

Holding spring training in Arizona would also allow the Mariners to participate in a handful of games against other teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, instead of playing only intrasquad scrimmages.

But having a spring training in Seattle would allow the players to finalize their living situations for the season and get situated instead of waiting till a day or two before the season begins.

Obviously, all those scenarios are still contingent on a plan being agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA and the current unpredictable environment with coronavirus and the illness COVID-19 trending in the right direction.

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