Cactus League asks MLB to delay start of spring training because of COVID-19 pandemic

Leaders of all eight Cactus League cities have sent a letter to Major League Baseball saying it would be "wise" to delay the start of spring training due to the high rate of COVID-19 infections in Arizona's Maricopa County.

"In view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County -- with one of the nation's highest infection rates -- we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation here," reads the letter, first acquired by TV station KPNX in Phoenix. "This position is based on public data from University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which projects a sharp decline in infections in Arizona by Mid-March."

The letter was signed by the executive director of the Cactus League, the city managers of Phoenix and Tempe, the mayors of Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise, Glendale and Peoria, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community president.

The Cactus League serves as the spring training home for 15 teams -- Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.

Spring training games are currently scheduled to begin on Feb. 27 in Arizona and in Florida, home of the Grapefruit League.

"As we have previously said publicly, we will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts, and the Players Association whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of Spring Training and the Championship Season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees and other game day personnel in a sport that plays every day," Major League Baseball responded later Monday via prepared statement.

The Major League Baseball Players Association said in a statement that it has not been in direct contact with the Cactus League.

"While we, of course, share the goals of a safe Spring Training and regular season, MLB has repeatedly assured us that it has instructed its teams to be prepared for an on time start to Spring Training and the Regular Season and we continue to devote all our efforts to making sure that that takes place as safely as possible," the union said.

Arizona is averaging just under 7,000 new coronavirus cases per day. Despite the roiling case numbers, the NHL's Arizona Coyotes are hosting 3,450 fans for home games in Glendale, although the NBA's Phoenix Suns are playing without fans. High school sports are also still operating.

In a sign that other teams are moving forward with preseason plans, the spring training home in Jupiter, Florida, shared by the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins announced Monday that it will begin selling tickets for spring games beginning Feb. 1. Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium said 2021 tickets will be sold in seating pods of two, four or six spaced 6 feet apart throughout the stadium.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.