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Spring training gets back to normal for the first time in 3 years

Spring training starts Friday in Arizona with a pair of games — the Texas Rangers v. the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Mariners v. the San Diego Padres.

There’s a full slate of eight games on Saturday, including the Arizona Diamondbacks playing two split squad games.

For decades, baseball fans have flocked to the Valley to see their teams and often to escape the cold. Bu spring training has looked a little different over the past few years — with the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s Major League Baseball lockout, there hasn’t been a typical spring training in about three years.

Cactus League Association Executive Director Bridget Binsbacher says that’s finally changing. 

"This is the first time fans can go into our stadiums without a modified schedule or reduced capacity or various protocols and signage and all of that. It’ll look and feel like it used to," Binsbacher said.

Binsbacher says this isn’t just good news for Arizonans who love baseball. The Cactus League draws fans from all over the place.

"Our survey, which we do every other year — partnership with ASU — has shown that six out of 10 of those fans are coming from somewhere else in the country, somewhere else in the world. And as a result of spring training, they go to other places throughout the state, so it’s a huge impact and I think people are looking forward to business as usual," said Binsbacher.

The Cactus League will still be slightly different than usual this year, thanks to the World Baseball Classic, a 20-country tournament that features a lot of major leaguers.

One of the four pools is playing in Phoenix in mid-March, a group that includes the U.S., Mexico and Canada. That means some big leaguers will be away from their MLB teams, and the WBC games themselves will be played at the same time as Cactus League games. 

"Typically, you know, we would have world baseball classic every four years. Those games would tack onto the regular spring training schedule so it was kind of an extension of spring, and now it’s a little bit different in that it’s in the middle of the season. Most of those games are played at Chase field, and so that could have an impact." Binsbacher said.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.