Next week when the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks pack up and leave town it will bring to an end a 63-year tradition of Major League Baseball spring training in Tucson.
Baseball may have just passed through the steroid era, but it is still in the midst of the stadium war era in which billionaire team owners pit city against city in a shameless, cut throat game of stadium one upsmanship.
In order for a city to fight this war it must arm itself with money, great heaping gobs of it. The Chicago White Sox left town last year to play in a new $120 million Glendale stadium that it will share with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which abandoned Vero Beach, Fla last year after more than 60 years. Dodgertown is no more.
The Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks will move into their new spring digs next year on the Salt River Indian Reservation near Scottsdale. That facility also will cost at least $100 million.
Naples, Fla., is trying to steal the Chicago Cubs away from Mesa, where they have trained for more than 50 years.
The Cubs have told Mesa they are unhappy with their ancient stadium there. Why it was built all the way back in 1997. And no self respecting Major League Baseball team can allow itself to be subjected to the humiliation of training in a stadium that is 13 years old.
A desperate Mesa has enlisted the aid of the state Legislature to pass a new tax to help pay for the stadium in addition to a new city tax Mesa voters will be asked to approve in November.
And that money will be on top of the stadium tax already being collected in Maricopa County that will provide $400 million over the next 20 years for spring training facilities there.
By contrast, Pima County built Tucson Electric Park in 1998 for just $38 million. And there’s nothing wrong with TEP. It’s an excellent facility. Hi Corbett is showing its age, but it could have been renovated for just a few million dollars. But that wasn’t good enough.
There was no reason for these teams to leave Tucson other than money. We didn’t drive them away, treat them poorly or fail to attend their games.
It would have cost this community dearly to try to fight an enormous city the size of metropolitan Phoenix to keep these teams. It was a wise decision not to fight, irrespective of spring training’s annual economic impact.
But because we didn’t fight, a few naysayers around town have blamed county and city leaders for supposedly losing spring training. But Tucson didn’t lose spring training. The truth is, Major League Baseball abandoned Tucson.
So goodbye baseball. Enjoy your new swanky stadiums up north. For the next 13 years, anyway.
Mark Evans - TucsonCitizen.com