Winter of waiting: Baseball fans hope MLB lockout fleeting
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By DAVID BRANDT
PHOENIX (AP) The only hint of activity outside of Chase Field on Thursday afternoon was the low humming noise from a construction crew, which was busy hanging some signs for an upcoming college football bowl game.
Otherwise, the home of Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks was quiet, almost serene.
That's fine - and even expected - on Dec. 2. The problem is if it still feels like this on March 31.
That's the day the 2022 MLB season is scheduled to begin and Chase Field's downtown concourse should be bustling with fans, ready to start the 162-game schedule with a day game against the Milwaukee Brewers. But it's unclear if that game or any others will be happening this spring now that the sport has entered its first work stoppage in 26 years.
Bill Pupo - a longtime baseball fan and Diamondbacks season-ticket holder - said he's hopeful of a quick resolution, but also acknowledges the current labor squabble has the feel of the 1994-95 strike that lasted 7 1/2 months and wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years.
"I think ownership is entitled to make a profit," Pupo said. "The players feel like they need a bigger slice of the pie and I don't blame them. They're the talent, the entertainers.
"The question is, what's the middle ground?"
MLB's labor showdown pits the league's owners vs. the players with a notable third party warily watching: the fans. It's unlikely the ticket-buying public will be very sympathetic to public bickering between the owners and players.
Even in the best of times, fans want their baseball and it was clear in the aftermath of the 1994-95 strike that fans were slow to forgive. Some never did.
Largely thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not the best of times. The 2020 regular season was drastically shortened and played in parks with no fans. Last season was better, but crowd capacity limits were still in place in many locations.
Now labor strife. The topic was on people's minds after a softball game on an artificial turf field in Manhattan near the Hudson River.
"It's going to turn people off," said 63-year-old Joe Cannizzo of Brooklyn, a self-described "lifelong Yankee fan, a lifelong baseball fan" who was wearing a Curtis Granderson T-shirt.
His friend, 60-year-old Paul Weinstein of Queens, said he grew up playing baseball "seven days a week, 12 hours a day."
But at this point, he said, "I think we're beaten down."
"I understand collective bargaining and unions," he said. "And I think we have some of the greatest players ever playing now -- Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw and more. It's a golden age of baseball, and no one cares."
"We've become disinterested. The marginalized fan, there's too many other things, too many other sports that draw them away," he said.
Pupo didn't get to attend Diamondbacks games in 2020 due to COVID-19 so he rolled his season tickets to 2021. He still didn't feel comfortable attending games because of the pandemic so he rolled them again to 2022. Now - because of the lockout - there's a chance this season will be affected, too.
The sport's labor issues - on top of the D-backs' recent struggles - make him wonder if it's worth the money and trouble.
"It's a cumulative effect," Pupo said.
For now, there's not much for fans to do but wait and hope. MLB's owners and players probably have around three months to come to an agreement before the regular season is affected.
How many fans will be around to watch when they return? That remains to be seen.
"I'm very forgiving of the game, so I'll go when they start playing again," said Cannizzo, the Yankees fan at the softball game. "But it's not a good look for the sport."
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker in New York contributed to this story.
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Updated December 2, 2021