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No surprise, MLB cancels first week of spring games

With no agreement on a labor deal, the league says exhibitions won’t start until March 5 at the earliest.
Fans watch during a spring training game between the Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates in March in Port Charlotte. Without a collective bargaining agreement in place, spring games have been postponed until March 5 at the earliest, according to Major League Baseball.
Fans watch during a spring training game between the Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates in March in Port Charlotte. Without a collective bargaining agreement in place, spring games have been postponed until March 5 at the earliest, according to Major League Baseball. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Feb. 18|Updated Feb. 18

ST. PETERSBURG — In an expected move, Major League Baseball made official Friday that at least the first week of scheduled spring training games have been canceled as a result of the lack of agreement on a new labor contract.

Some teams were scheduled to start exhibitions on Feb. 25, including the Tigers in Lakeland. The Rays were slated to open play against the Pirates Feb. 26 in Bradenton and at their spring home in Port Charlotte Feb. 27 against the Orioles. Eight of their games (including split-squad games on March 4) have been canceled. Teams were to have opened camps earlier this week.

MLB said spring games across Florida and Arizona won’t start until March 5 at the earliest, pending resolution of negotiations with the players that will resume next week. The union, not surprisingly, disagreed with the owners’ claim that they had to cancel the games. If there is no resolution by the end of the month, the league, which implemented a lockout on Dec. 2, is expected to announce that regular-season games also will be lost.

Fans with tickets to canceled games will have the option for full refunds; the Rays said to call 888-FAN-RAYS. There is residual impact from the cancellations to stadium workers; vendors who provide food and other services at the stadiums; as well as bars, restaurants, hotels and others that get business from tourists and local fans attending games.

Four teams hold spring training in the greater Tampa Bay area, with the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Phillies in Clearwater, Pirates in Bradenton and Yankees in Tampa.

Here is the full statement from MLB:

“We regret that, without a collective bargaining agreement in place, we must postpone the start of Spring Training games until no earlier than Saturday, March 5th. All 30 Clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands.

“The Clubs have adopted a uniform policy that provides an option for full refunds for fans who have purchased tickets from the Clubs to any Spring Training games that are not taking place.

“We are committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to each side. On Monday, members of the owners’ bargaining committee will join an in-person meeting with the Players Association and remain every day next week to negotiate and work hard towards starting the season on time.”

The union responded later in the day.

“MLB announced today that it ‘must’ postpone the start of spring training games. This is false. Nothing requires the league to delay the start of spring training, much like nothing required the league’s decision to implement the lockout in the first place. Despite these decisions by the league, players remain committed to the negotiating process.”

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