Braves’ exhibition schedule delayed at least a week as lockout lingers

CoolToday Park is the Braves' spring-training stadium in North Port, Fla.  (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Combined ShapeCaption
CoolToday Park is the Braves' spring-training stadium in North Port, Fla. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Braves’ exhibition schedule, originally set to open Feb. 26 in North Port, Fla., will be delayed at least a week because of MLB’s continuing lockout of the players.

MLB announced Friday the start of spring-training games will be pushed back to no earlier than March 5. The Braves’ original spring schedule had them playing eight games before that date.

“We regret that, without a collective bargaining agreement in place, we must postpone the start of spring training games,” MLB said in a statement. “All 30 clubs are unified in their strong desire to bring players back to the field and fans back to the stands.”

MLB said its 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.”

Negotiations between MLB and the Players Association are scheduled to resume Monday, but so far there has been scant progress since the owners imposed the lockout Dec. 2.

Disagreements remain over such issues as revenue sharing among clubs, service time required to reach salary arbitration, a bonus pool for pre-arbitration players and the competitive balance tax on high-payroll teams.

Pitchers and catchers would have begun spring-training workouts this week if not for the labor dispute.

While it’s no surprise the first week of exhibition games has been lost to the lockout, the larger questions remain when (or if) spring training will begin and whether the regular season will open as scheduled March 31. All of that depends on what happens in the negotiations.

The Players Association rejected MLB’s characterization of Friday’s move, saying in a statement: “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.”

When implementing the lockout in December, MLB framed it as a preemptive move to guard against the possibility of the players going on strike during the regular season, as happened in 1994, resulting in cancellation of that year’s World Series.

This is the fourth consecutive year, for a variety of reasons, that the Braves’ spring training plans at CoolToday Park in North Port have been derailed.

In 2019, which was to have been the Braves’ first spring there, construction delays caused them to train in the Orlando area for one additional year and play just one exhibition game in North Port. In 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Grapefruit League schedule in the second week of March. In 2021, attendance was limited at spring training games because of the pandemic. Now, the lockout.

Debbie McDowell, a member of the North Port City Commission, has called the latest interruption “very disappointing” and “very unfortunate.”

“Economically, there is going to be a big impact because you’re not having the tourist draw,” she said.