Lockout gets real: MLB’s spring showcase goes silent

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The street next to the San Francisco Giants spring training facility was missing its usual bustle on an unseasonably cool Wednesday morning.

Bartender Sean Ramirez was stacking plates and cleaning glasses before his lunch shift at Los Olivos Mexican Patio, contemplating Major League Baseball’s lockout.

“This is usually our time of year, man,” said Ramirez, a son of the restaurant’s owner who has worked behind the bar for 15 years. “This is the spot, the hangout for Giants fans. We’re usually packed with fans from Sacramento and San Francisco.”

The sounds of spring baseball — from the crack of wooden bats, to music blaring from stadium speakers, to shouted requests from autograph seekers — were muted or completely missing on what was supposed to be the day that pitchers and catchers began workouts in preparation for opening day on March 31.

Instead, it was Day 77 of a lockout that’s become the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history. Many minor leaguers are reporting to camp in Arizona and Florida on dates that vary by team, but the 40-man roster players won’t be on the field until MLB and the players’ association reach a compromise.

“I’m very sad because there’s nobody here, and we’re going to have a short spring training,” said 59-year-old Johnny Rivero, a Yankees fan who was hunting for a few autographs at the team’s minor league facility in Tampa, Florida.

“We’ll see what happens.”

For now, there’s not much happening at all.

Maybe the most depressing development for baseball fans is there haven’t been any real developments toward breaking the financial stalemate. Neither side made any public statement this week to acknowledge that spring training is failing to start on schedule for the first time since 1995.

Bargaining is to resume Thursday.

In Florida on Wednesday morning, the statue of late owner George Steinbrenner that sits outside of the Yankees spring facility faced a mostly empty parking lot and the closed ticket windows. The temperatures was in the 70s with a brisk east wind blowing in from right field, where the workout would have been taking place.

In Arizona, it was nearly silent outside of Salt River Fields, which is where the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies share facilities. The cool and damp weather added to the baseball malaise, as a parking lot security guard wandered around without much to do.

This is the third straight spring training that is far from normal following a 2020 cut short by the COVID pandemic and a 2021 with limited attendance due to health restrictions.

Ramirez said he has no idea what Los Olivos will look like this February and March if there’s no baseball. He’s just hoping the two sides reach an agreement soon.

“I am an optimist and I believe we will have an agreement in time to play our regular schedule,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said at a news conference last Thursday. “I see missing games as a disastrous outcome for this industry, and we’re committed to making an agreement in an effort to avoid that.”

The 2020 regular season was shortened from 162 games per team to 60 games, and regular-season games were played in empty ballparks. Last year, only Texas began the season at 100% capacity, with other U.S, teams reaching full capacity availability ranging from Atlanta on May 7 to Seattle on July 2. MLB attendance was 45.3 million, down from 68.5 million over 2019.

And now, labor strife.

Manfred said last week that about four weeks of training would be needed, with additional time for ratification and players to travel to camps.

When that time comes is anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, fans and workers like Ramirez are stuck in limbo.

“This is what we rely on to help us the rest of the year,” the bartender said. “We don’t know what to expect.”