This was a trip months in the making. No, in fact, it was a trip years in the making. I went to my first Mariners Spring Training in 2011 and my last one in 2013. 2020 was supposed to be my blissful return to the valley of the sun but nothing had prepared me for the unprecedented events that were about to unfold.
We bought our plane tickets and booked our hotel shortly after the end of the 2019 season. I finally had enough money to make it work after a long seven-year. Every spring, I find myself scrolling endlessly through various booking websites trying to find the best deal for a place to stay in Peoria for Mariners spring training, but this was the year that it was finally going to happen.
As the winter months dragged on and the calendar flipped to a new decade, my excitement grew exponentially. Unfortunately, so did Covid-19. I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t too worried about it. My own ignorance towards how widespread this could become left me in a false sense of security. I was going on this trip.
Then, a week before we left, news broke that the first confirmed cases of Covid-19 were discovered right in my backyard. Still, I found myself more worried about the impending storm that continued to appear on the Peoria forecast than the virus. Surely our biggest problem on the trip would be a rainout here or there.
We arrived in Arizona early on Monday, March 9th. By then, the Coronavirus had spread to various other states and was seeming to pick up speed. Italy had canceled all sporting events until further notice. Again I found myself, ignorant as ever, thinking this couldn’t change our trip much. I was dead wrong.
I work in retail, so I’ve seen the extreme of the Coronavirus Doomsday Preppers. Hand Sanitizer, Lysol, toilet paper (honestly why??) were flying off the shelves. I chalked it up to the panic of c
It had come out just before we left that the players were advised not to sign autographs. As a casual autograph seeker, I was pretty disappointed. Once we arrived at our first game, played between the Athletics and the Rangers in Surprise, I saw a decent amount of players signing for fans. This was reassuring to say the least so I figured this wasn’t going to be much of a problem.
Then came the news our of Washington that Governor Jay Inslee would be banning gatherings of more than 250 people. That’s when it started to sink in. This meant that the Mariners would have to begin their season on the road and outside of Seattle. Still, I didn’t think this would change much for us in Peoria.
We went to the back fields Tuesday morning and it seemed to be business as usual. Players would stop to sign autographs for the most part but you could see some reservations in their eyes and when you spoke with them. At this point, the Inslee news hadn’t become official. The game in Peoria that night between the Mariners and the Angels was packed.
Wednesday is when things began to change. We had planned a doubleheader that day. The first game would be held at Salt River Fields between the White Sox and the Rockies. The second would be back in Peoria between the Padres and the Mariners. It was a soggy morning, to say the least. The Mariners’ morning practice was canceled. We headed to Salt River Fields. The turnout was a bit lackluster we figured that was because of the rain. We were there for roughly an hour before that game got officially rained out.
In between the games, Jay Inslee’s ban became official and the tide really begins to shift. Players showed basically an unwillingness to sign autographs or get close to the fans. Sure, players here and there would stop but there was a pretty clear dropoff. The turnout for that game was incredibly low. So low, we could hear the infielders talk to each other during the game. Still, I found myself in denial of how much this was going to affect the next couple of days.
While we were at the game, news broke that the NBA was suspending their season indefinitely. My mind was blown. In no way did I expect this to happen. Twitter was a wildfire. There was an eerie feeling throughout the rest of that game. The stadium was incredibly quiet. And thus began an incredible chain of events that went down faster than I’d ever seen.
Thursday morning came around and we were set to see a game in Mesa between the Cubs and the Dodgers. It had rained all night so we were unsure if we would be getting the game in. Then, scrolling through Twitter, the news of the MLB conference call between all the teams came up. I think that’s the point where it really sank in.
I began reading about all the other sports and events being canceled. College Athletics, the XFL, MLS, concerts, farmers markets, basically any public setting you could dream of, they were all of the tables.
There was no way that the MLB was going to let the season progress as normal. Shortly thereafter came the news that the season would be postponed for at least two weeks. There is was. Until at least April 9th, there would be no baseball.
Still, there was no news about Spring Training. The game in Mesa got rained out so we quickly went and bought some tickets to another game in Surprise between the Mariners and Royals.
Lineups had been posted and the game was still scheduled to be played so we hopped in the car. On the way there, Joel Sherman tweeted that Spring Training would be suspended starting on Friday, so we assumed we’d still be good for Thursday.
We made it to the stadium, went inside and walked around for a bit. There were a few hundred people there all expecting to see a ballgame. Then, about an hour before game time, I read a tweet saying the Mariners bus never left Peoria. My stomach dropped. Twenty minutes later, the game was canceled.
Currently, I’m supposed to be enjoying the last game of our trip between the Dodgers and Mariners in Peoria. Instead, I’m writing this piece from my hotel room where I’ve spent a lot more time than I originally intended to. We saw three of the six scheduled games, only got to go to the backfields once and received maybe four autographs.
Players were forced to treat fans like they had the plague and it showed. The whole trip was in shambles but much more importantly, all of baseball was in purgatory. Players were not going to be paid, stadium workers were out of a job and people were left without an outlet on their tv every night.
This is still an incredibly fluid situation. Earlier today, players began heading home or to various other places to train and relax. Baseball season will, in no way, start again on April 9th. Until this thing is contained, our world is stuck in a holding pattern. For now, we will head back to Seattle and face whatever else life has to throw our way. Baseball, on the other hand, will have to wait.