Spring training looks a little different this year. Minor league players have reported and are practicing, but major league players are still locked out. Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — On a day like this, in sunny Southwest Florida, you can almost convince yourself that everything is normal.

It feels normal to watch Triston Casas, Boston’s top prospect, drill a fly ball just short of the outfield wall in the first at-bat of his day in an intrasquad scrimmage. To see cameras follow Marcelo Mayer, last year’s first-round draft pick, around the back fields in the shadow of JetBlue Park. To watch pitchers get the better of hitters as offensive players work on their timing.

There were plenty of Red Sox fans soaking up the sun, many of them on a trip and not wearing a mask for the first time since they were here to see the Sox in March 2020, just before COVID-19 turned the world upside down.

Now, it’s the baseball world that’s a mess. While minor leaguers practice, the major league clubhouse was locked up tight. Not one of the players on the 40-man roster is here. And won’t be until a deal is made.

Welcome to Spring Training 2022. Where minor leaguers are getting more attention than ever before.

While the Sox prospects were working out on a glorious sunny day Sunday, the Major League Baseball Players Association was making its latest proposal to Commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners. It didn’t go over well.


“We were hoping to see some movement in our direction to give us additional flexibility and get a deal done quickly,” MLB spokesman Glen Caplin said Sunday afternoon. “The Players Association chose to come back to us with a proposal that was worse than Monday night and was not designed to move the process forward. On some issues, they even went backwards. Simply put, we are deadlocked. We will try to figure out how to respond but nothing in this proposal makes it easy.”

The union, of course, disagreed with Caplin’s summation of the offer.

Disagreements have been easy to find in baseball’s winter of discontent. Walking on the back fields of Fort Myers it’s hard to imagine how it got this far. The snap of a fastball hitting a catcher’s mitt, the crack of the bat, the symphony of baseball sounds that remind us we’ve almost made it through another winter should be enough to warm our hearts.

But this labor dispute keeps an icy grip on the big league game, a week after it felt like the two sides had inched closer. Instead regular-season games have been canceled, with more cancellations in sight.

So it’s the minor leaguers getting big-time treatment right now. Alex Cora wasn’t on hand for the first official workout, but had spent time watching young prospects like Mayer and Nick Yorke and Blaze Jordan, 19-year olds who could be playing infield at Fenway in 2024 or 2025. He was impressed. If there’s any silver lining in all of this it’s that Cora’s big-league staff, unhampered by the usual grind of a major league spring training schedule, has been able to watch the youngest prospects up close.

Opening Day for the Worcester Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs and Salem Red Sox won’t be affected by the ongoing negotiations. The Triple-A Red Sox will open April 5 in Jacksonville as planned, with the home opener a week later at Polar Park. The Sea Dogs play their home opener on April 8.

Business as usual, for them. Just not for the game’s best players. As the back fields hummed with baseball Sunday, JetBlue Park remained empty. It was a blank canvas, waiting for baseball to be splashed across its field. Baseball’s present tense, on hold. While the future of the sport was hard at work in the background.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.

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