Spring training: Baseball is back as games begin in Phoenix area following end of MLB lockout

After the end of a 99-day lockout by the MLB, it's time to play ball once again, as spring training games start across the Phoenix area on March 17.

The lockout, which stemmed from a labor dispute, resulted in a longer than expected interruption to baseball, but fans remain thrilled.

"At first we came down here for spring break, and we thought we weren’t going to see any games, but now we can, so we’re super excited," said one fan at Salt River Fields.

Salt River Fields is one of a number of spring training facilities in Arizona, and on March 17, fans lined up to catch the Arizona Diamondbacks take on the Colorado Rockies.

"We had this planned for about eight months," said another fan at Salt River Fields. "Hotels, flights, everything booked, and we were just, like, fingers crossed we are able to see something, and we got here right in time."

As the games continued on March 18, fans remain excited, but some, like Aaron Horn, couldn't catch a game.

Horne and his wife had pre-planned a Phoenix trip, not knowing there would be a lockout.

"We've got six kids, so to be able to get away and do something like that is pretty rare," said Horn. "We arranged it so the grandparents were going to watch the kids, and we were gonna go on a Tuesday, watch the game on Wednesday, and fly home on Thursday."

The Wednesday game, however, was canceled, and they flew back on Thursday, only to learn that the games were back on.

"We met up with some friends there, and the next day, she was sending me pictures from a game, so I was like alright. Glad that was short-lived, but kind of a bummer we missed it," said Horn.

Horn said he will return to Phoenix in 2023.

"We were in a hotel right next ot the ball field, so that got us really excited and disappointed at the same time, so that basically just secured for us that we want to try again next year," said Horn.

Ballpark, businesses ready for games

Prior to the start of spring training games, officials with Camelback Ranch in Scottsdale say they are ready.

"It’s a short amount of time, but we were really prepared," said Matt Slatus. "We prepped for games to begin on February 26, then we prepped for games on March 8, and now here, we are opening up tomorrow, March 17. White Sox, Cubs, as big as it gets. We’re ready."

Slatus said ticket sales have been great despite less games and short notice.

"We will sell out a significant number of games," said Slatus.

Businesses, meanwhile, are also getting ready for the visitors, but some might be left disappointed.

Tiffany Priester is busy making wood fired pizzas for Dough Riders. Before the lockout, they were set to sell food at Angels games that were set to take place at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Priester, however, was told in an e-mail on March 16 that not enough tickets have been sold for them to come.

"It’s just people aren’t coming out," said Priester.

For a new business that relies on crowds, it is a disappointment.

"It’s supposed to be real Important," said Priester. "We would have sold a lot of pizzas there. People would have been real happy. We’ll really miss that."

We have reached out to Tempe about ticket sales, but officials have yet to respond.

Jim Pittenger, meanwhile, is thrilled to share his specialty during spring training. He owns Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, and he has been selling his hot dogs at Denver's Coors Field for the past several years.

"What a beautiful way, perfect way of experiencing the market, feeding fans that like hot dogs, and giving them a unique twist of what we are doing with hot dogs," said Pittenger.

Pittenger's hot dogs feature unique protein like elk, rattlesnake, and ostrich sausages.

Shortened spring training season could still benefit Arizona's economy 

Slatus said they will still have more than 50% of originally scheduled games, which is good news for the economy.

"It’s unbelievable when you look at this ballpark and the number of people that work here every day. We’re talking about hundreds of people with seasonal employment, heads in beds for hotel partners, people sitting at tables in restaurants. Spring training is a significant part of the economy in the State of Arizona," said Slatus.

According to the Cactus League, even in the shortened 2020 season, Spring training brought more than $300 million dollars into Arizona's economy.

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