What will spring training look like?

As expected, the Major League Baseball Players Association on Monday night shot down MLB’s proposal to push back the start of spring training one month, reduce the regular season to 154 games and complete an expanded postseason in early November, all while receiving full-season pay and reinstituting the universal designated hitter for 2021.

“The MLBPA Executive Board and Player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners’ proposal throughout the weekend and today,” the union said in a press release. “The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that Players will not accept MLB’s proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB’s commitment to again direct its Clubs to prepare for an on-time start.”

The league then issued its own counter statement.

“In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols,” the MLB statement read. “Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball.

“We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB staff to protect one another. We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021.”

In other words: Play ball!

Neither side may be satisfied with the process, and animosity between the two parties remains as high as it’s ever been, but there’s nothing they can do now except prepare to open camps in two weeks and prepare for the previously scheduled April 1 opening day.

What’s spring training going to look like? Not like any spring training we’ve ever seen before.

Every winter around this time, I publish a fan’s guide to Nationals spring training, offering up tips for watching workouts and games in person and making recommendations for hotels, restaurants and activities in the West Palm Beach area. But there’s no sense writing that story this year, because most of it is moot.

Yes, you’re still welcome to fly or drive down to Florida, pick a hotel of your choosing and grab takeout from any restaurant that offers it. But the actual baseball experience of spring training is going to be awfully different and awfully restrictive.

Ballpark-of-the-Palm-Beaches-1B-Stands-View-Sidebar.jpgThe Nationals haven’t publicly announced their plans quite yet, but some season ticket holders recently received information about tickets to games at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Here’s what you need to know ...

* You almost certainly aren’t going to be able to watch workouts on the back fields or get up close and personal with players as they trot from field to batting cage to bullpen to clubhouse. So there really won’t be any reason to show up at the complex prior to the Grapefruit League opener Feb. 27.

* Game tickets are going to be extremely restrictive. You’ll need to buy them in small groups and sit together in assigned seats, spaced out from other groups. You may be required to enter and exit the ballpark at specific times, and your movement inside the stadium will probably be limited.

* Don’t count on being allowed to stand close to the field and interact directly with players. It’s not going to be conducive to autographs.

The players’ experience may be different in some ways as well. Rather than having the entire team on the field at the same time for morning workouts, it’s possible they’ll need to stagger sessions by positions. They did a similar thing last summer during the abbreviated camp at Nationals Park.

You’ll probably only see the players who are actually appearing in that day’s game in the dugout, with those who aren’t playing perhaps being sent home early to reduce congestion and overexposure.

We’ll certainly learn more details in the coming days. And, as has been the case for the last 11 months, the situation can change dramatically on a moment’s notice. Nothing’s written in stone.

But for now, the equipment truck is heading down Interstate 95, players are making travel plans, and pitchers and catchers are set to report Feb. 17.

We can only hope it’s smooth sailing after that.

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