Major League Baseball lockout could bring another sour season to Florida spring training sites

First work stoppage since 1994 season halted
Spring training baseball in Jupiter, March 3, 2021
Posted at 12:49 PM, Dec 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 17:40:52-05

JUPITER, Fla. — Major League Baseball owners and the players association could not come to an agreement on Wednesday, prompting the first work stoppage of America's pastime since the 1994 season came to an abrupt end.

The two sides have been unable to resolve their differences, namely the players union being angered over a declining average salary and middle-class players being forced out by teams concentrating payroll on the wealthy.

Also, veteran players have been recently jettisoned in favor of lower-paid youth, especially among clubs tearing down their rosters to rebuild.

In a letter to fans, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he believed the lockout was necessary to avoid a delay to the start of the season.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during a news conference in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. Owners locked out players at 12:01 a.m. Thursday following the expiration of the sport's five-year collective bargaining agreement.

"We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season. We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time," Manfred wrote.

This disagreement has put into serious question whether or not spring training will begin in February.

Spring training sites like West Palm Beach, Jupiter and Port St. Lucie have been hamstrung in recent years by the pandemic.

Local businesses and restaurants that see a spike in sales from baseball fans have been hopeful that we would have the first full spring training season since 2019.

Spring training in March 2020 was cut short by the start of the pandemic, and then last season had reduced attendance measures in place.

At the Stadium Grill in Jupiter, located across the street from Roger Dean Stadium, loyal spring training customers are already starting to arrive in town.

Patrick Rishe, sports economist and Director of the Olin Sports Business Program at Washington University in St. Louis
Patrick Rishe says spring training games may be a casualty of the lockout.

Dave Lowenstein and his wife made the drive this week from Indiana — a winter stay that ends with Cardinals spring training games in March.

"The first stop is here," Lowenstein said Friday referring to his visit to the Jupiter restaurant.

At the Stadium Grill, spring training is 25 percent of the annual business — a big economic boost in one short month.

The four professional baseball teams in Palm Beach County, along with the Mets in Port St. Lucie, draw thousands of tourists and bring tens of millions of dollars to the area each spring.

Patrick Rishe, a sports economist and director of the Olin Sports Business Program at Washington University in St. Louis, shared his thoughts on the situation.

"Unfortunately, I don't think the powers that be that run Major League Baseball, or the players association, give two licks about what's happening in those cities and those restaurants and those hotels, and that's the unfortunate truth," Rishe said.

Rick Ayers of Stadium Grill speaks about baseball lockout
Rick Ayers of the Stadium Grill is staying optimistic that the lockout will end before spring training.

With spring training affected the last two years by COVID-19, places like the Stadium Grill are now learning a hard lesson in survival.

"It's awesome when they're here. If they're not here, we still have to make the business survive," said Rick Ayers at the Stadium Grill. "This is a mom-and-pop restaurant."

Pitchers and catchers are due to report for spring training on Feb. 16, leaving about two-and-a-half months to reach a deal and not put the start of the season in peril.

Portions of this article courtesy of the Associated Press