"Don't look now, but there's a very real chance Tucson could lose spring training, perhaps as early as 2009. Colorado Rockies officials say they are serious about negotiating with Goodyear officials about a move to a new spring-training complex that would be shared with the Cleveland Indians…" - Kevin Reichard, Ballpark Digest, November 19.
Airfare for two to Phoenix - $900
Hotel for three nights - $800
Tickets to Spring Training $150
15 teams to choose from – priceless
Sometime in the not too distant future, such a commericial could make the rounds. Business officials in Tucson are hoping that never happens. That is to say, they don’t want the Rockies and Diamondbacks to move their spring training digs to Phoenix. As Kevin Reichard notes, however, that possibility does exists.
As a regular to spring training, I sometimes get asked which I like more, Arizona or Florida? My reply is usually something like, both are great, you can’t wrong with either, but a tie breaker would be the proximity factor in Phoenix. Nine teams train there and the dust is flying for the Dodgers and the Indians who are on tap for the welcome wagon in 2009.
Florida has some clustering in the Tampa Bay Area but loses points in the transportation game. The gulf- side traffic is not as bad as Miami and South Florida but you can see it getting worse. All big cities have traffic but when I lived in Phoenix in 1993-1994, and on subsequent visits, the I-10 HOV lane there (only two required) took the sting out of getting around.
Tampa/St Pete counters with some of the most beautiful beach walks in the world (on a calm day the one in Clearwater can be surreal), so I suppose this “who is better” contest was a tie overall.
I say “was” because, if you’ll pardon the pun, Phoenix is rising in the spring training game. In 2002, the greater metro area there hosted seven teams. The following March, the Rangers and Royals left Florida for Surprise, a fast-growing locale on the western side. The average fan didn’t care too much about that but let’s just say the ballpark scoreboard at the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority lit up like a Christmas tree.
The Sunshine State still has the media darlings from Boston and New York, Disney, the beaches and 18 teams, but Phoenix steals away two more teams beginning in 2009. The Dodgers, who broke ground on Tuesday, will leave Vero Beach after 50 plus years for the new ballpark in Glendale. The construction schedule is very tight but with the good climate there and some 11th hour overtime, it appears the park will open on time.
That same March, the Cleveland Indians will have said their goodbyes to Winter Haven (15 road turns and you were there) for a new ballpark and training facilities in Goodyear. That will bring the count to 12 teams in the Phoenix area.
The White Sox, who are all but gone from Tucson and will share fields with the Dodgers, would make it a baker’s dozen.
Spring training history is filled with teams moving. The Cactus League got its start in Tucson with Bill Veeck and the Indians and in Phoenix with Horace Stoneham and the Giants in 1947. It hurts the local hearts when the boys of March move away, but new chapters will be written. The winner in this game is the fans. More teams mean more choices, to say nothing of the fun in watching the Giants and Dodgers start a new chapter in their storied rivalry.
So have fun wherever you go. If it is Phoenix, but don’t be too surprised when you look down at your car rental charges and see a “Team Proximity Convenience Fee.”
Welcome to Spring Training.