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Spring Training to begin with safety focus

Published on Feb 17, 2021

Spring training in Polk County will look and feel different this year as the Detroit Tigers prepare for their 85th season in Lakeland.

Pitchers and catchers begin arriving for camp this week and position players are set to arrive next week.

“Sports have really been a diversion for a lot of us,” Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing Director Mark Jackson said during a recent meeting of the Board of County Commissioners. “We want spring training here.”

But, he added, it needs to be done safely to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including a cap of about 2,000 fans per game with spacing between groups of fans in assigned seats.

A few other changes will be coming to the new season to protect the teams and fans who attend the games.

The Pepsi Porch and Berm areas will be reduced to 50 percent capacity and suites will be at 75 percent capacity, according to the City of Lakeland. Major League Baseball approved masks will be mandatory for all visitors and the usual security procedures will be in place.

However, due to the MLB rules of separation, there will be no pre-game activities before the first pitch is thrown at each game and fan interaction with players will not happen at this time.

All concessions and merchandise sales will be cashless, and no bags will be allowed into the park, except for medical or diaper bags.

Game schedules will also be altered this year, Jackson said, to limit contacts between teams. The teams will play in pods, which means the Tigers will only play the Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin), New York Yankees (Tampa) and Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater). The Tigers will also play several games against the Tampa Bay Rays (Port Charlotte), Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton) and Baltimore Orioles (Sarasota).

The goal was to reduce the drive time for teams to about 45 minutes or less between opponents, Jackson added.