PHOENIX (AP) — Even during a pandemic, the appetite to sit in the sun and watch Major League Baseball spring training appears robust.
The Arizona Diamondbacks sold out their entire spring allotment of tickets in less than 24 hours after they went on sale to the public. Approximately 2,200 tickets were sold for all 14 of the team's home games, with fans spread throughout the park in pods of two, four or six seats and masks are required except when eating or drinking.
That's 20 percent of the stadium's normal 11,000-person capacity.
“The fact that it sold out as fast as it did — that fires me up,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “We've been looking forward to this day as much as them.”
The Colorado Rockies — who share the Salt River Fields facility with the D-backs — have also sold out of tickets to their home games. The two teams open their spring training schedule against each other next Sunday. Spring training facilities across Arizona and Florida have been making their own decisions about how many fans — if any — are allowed to attend games.
Arizona pitchers Zac Gallen and Stefan Crichton said that having fans in the park would be a welcome change. All 30 teams played without fans during the pandemic-shortened, 60-game schedule in 2020. Limited fans were allowed during the postseason.
“Hopefully we can keep taking steps toward getting the stadiums full,” Crichton said.
New COVID-19 cases have gone down in Arizona over the past few weeks, just like they have throughout most of the country. Lovullo said his team would continue to strictly follow the league's protocols but seeing fans is another reminder that baseball might be a little more “normal” in 2021.
“We missed our fans,” Lovullo said. “Not just Diamondbacks fans but I think baseball fans throughout the entire United States. We've lost a little bit of a connection. We've done what we could in our special way in Arizona to remain connected to our core group of fans, but the fact that they're out there, they sold out, it doesn't surprise me at all.
"Fans have been patiently waiting for these days.”
DESMOND OPTS OUT AGAIN
Colorado Rockies veteran outfielder Ian Desmond is opting out for a second straight season.
Desmond announced Sunday on his Instagram account that his “desire to be with my family is greater than my desire to go back and play baseball under these circumstances. I’m going to train and watch how things unfold.” He added “for now” in his statement to opt out, leaving the door open for a possible return.
The 35-year-old Desmond is in the final year of a five-year, $70 million deal he signed in December 2016. He is scheduled to make $8 million this season. Colorado has a $15 million option for 2022 with a $2 million buyout.
STRASBURG FEELING BETTER
Washington right-hander Stephen Strasburg is ready to return after a nerve issue in his wrist ended his 2020 season after five innings.
The Nationals ace said the problem went away immediately after a 15-minute carpal tunnel surgery.
He said on Sunday that before the surgery, the injury would get aggravated every time he threw a baseball and “basically would go from numbness in my thumb to numbness in my whole hand.”
The 2019 World Series MVP began preparing for this season much earlier than usual, doing a light catch on Nov. 1 instead of mid-December, and throwing bullpens early in January instead of late in the month.
“Endurance-wise, stamina-wise, I feel like I’m a lot further along than I have (been) in years past,” he said. “I wanted to give myself some extra time to work through some mechanical things and be ready to go on Day One.”
SANCHEZ SIGNS WITH GIANTS
Right-hander Aaron Sanchez finalized a $4 million, one-year contract with the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, giving the club another experienced starter to join Johnny Cueto in the rotation.
The Giants said Sanchez could earn up to $2.5 million more in performance bonuses based on starts: $250,000 each for 16 and 18 starts and $500,000 each for 20, 22, 24 and 26 games started. He has been plagued by injuries in recent years.
The 28-year-old Sanchez hasn’t pitched since 2019, sitting out last year’s shortened season while recovering from surgery on his pitching shoulder. He went 5-14 with a 5.89 ERA over 27 starts and 131 1/3 innings playing for Toronto and Houston.
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Howard Fendrich contributed to this story.
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