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Major League Baseball

Spring training's final windup is next week

Major League Baseball tradition a staple in the Old Pueblo since 1946


When Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck signed center fielder Larry Doby for the 1946 season, he planted a seed that became a Tucson institution.

You see, Doby, the second black man to play Major League baseball and the first in the American League, wasn't welcome in a lot of Florida hotels, and Veeck didn't like that. So for spring training that year, the maverick owner brought the Indians to Tucson - where he had a ranch and figured the people would accept his new player.

He was right, and Tucson has hosted spring training every year since.

The Indians trained here, and the White Sox and the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. But lately the embrace has faded. Attendance is not stellar, and travel to and from Phoenix, where the Cactus League's 15 other teams train, is a hassle and added expense for teams that train here.

Over the past few years, locals of every stripe have huddled with each other, team owners and state government to try to keep the teams here. But local governments are loathe to shove $100 million in the direction of team owners who want better digs. so the huddling went nowhere.

After 2008, the Chicago White Sox left Tucson Electric Park. Their offices are still deserted. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who have trained here since their first year in 1998, will leave after this year. And the Colorado Rockies plan to leave Hi Corbett Field after this year.

All three teams are moving to the Phoenix valley. The Colorado Rockies will share a spring training facility with the Diamondbacks located in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community near the 101 Freeway and Indian Bend Road.

John Eggers, a visitor from Boston, was at Tucson Electric Park watching the Diamondbacks play the Oakland Athletics on March 12. As a lifelong baseball fan, Eggers' gut reaction to Tucson's loss was easy to elicit.

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He thinks the county, which owns TEP, should have found the wherewithal to pony up $100 million for a new stadium. Letting the teams go was a cascade of longterm mistakes, he said.

"It's a stupid, stupid move," he said, especially considering Tucson is a growing community.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who was directly involved in negotiations to keep the teams here until 2008, wasn't so convinced. A stadium "doesn't pencil out and never will," given the low attendance, he said.

In the end, Tucson couldn't take on the state's 800-pound gorilla - Phoenix.

"We certainly couldn't compete and wouldn't," Huckelberry said.

The Sports and Tourism Authority, created by the county in 2008 to handle baseball negotiations, has talked with numerous Japanese teams that might be lured here for spring training. That could replace some of the $1 million-plus in revenue sharing the county will lose from TEP.

"There's been a lot of talk about it, but no action that I can see," Huckelberry said.

Authority Executive Director Mike Feder did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Eggers thinks the Diamondbacks will lose money by leaving. With no presence here, fan support might fade to other teams.

"The Diamondbacks already have the Phoenix market," he said.

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Regardless of finances, fans will lose.

Eggers' sister, Elizabeth, 32, is also a lifelong baseball fan. The Oro Valley resident tries to get in five or six spring training games every year. She'll miss the spring training access.

"It's a hassle to have to travel an hour and a half," she said.

Elizabeth gets up to Phoenix for regular season games as often as possible.

"That depends on how many times the Mets are playing," she grinned.

Fan support is the main reason the teams are leaving, said Solano Leon, 24, who was at the A's game with friends. He doesn't blame the Diamondbacks. He thinks we're getting what we deserve as a community.

"We're not giving them what they need to stay, so it's our own fault," Solano said, noting the empty seats in the 11,000 park. "People complain about nothing to do, then when they have something they don't do it."

Spring training's departure will drive up the minimum price for Tucsonans to see Major League games. The minimum price at Chase Field is $8, and gas adds more.

John Eggers appreciates bringing his family for $5 each - the cost of outfield lawn seats at TEP. His sons, Ben, Luke and Noah, 12, 10 and 3 respectively, liked it, too. They were rolling around in the grass during the game, clearly loving every minute of it.

The Diamondbacks need the cheaper local games to build support for the game, John said.

A lot of families can't afford the cost of a trip to Phoenix for a game - a trip that can easily approach $200 for the lowish-rent version.

"More baseball for less money is good for baseball. Period," John said.

Erik Brostedt, 38, has been selling lemonade at TEP since 1997. He wishes there had been a strong city-county effort to fund a downtown stadium for the teams. Fans are partly to blame, too, he said.

He has seen some pretty slow days at TEP.

"And they think we're going to support Japanese baseball? C'mon," he said.

Not having spring training will actually allow the county to make a little money it couldn't get with teams in residence, Huckelberry said.

The teams controlled TEP from December-April, and their absence will allow a few winter events that had been blocked before, he said.

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Noe Mendoza, a Tucson police officer, was at the park with his family March 13 for a Dodgers game. He doesn't blame the teams, either, but he thinks it will be a sad day for the city when the crack of the bat fades from TEP next Tuesday.

"Whatever's best for the Diamondbacks, I guess, but down here in Tucson it's going to hurt us," he said.

Yes, Noe, it will.

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1 comment on this story

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63 comments
Mar 25, 2010, 3:07 am
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Building another stadium would not have helped. There’s just no logical reason why two or three teams would want to be in Tucson, while so many of their potential opponents are in Phoenix. Frankly, I stopped caring about baseball years ago, and, as far a Spring Training goes, Phoenix or Florida can have all of it.

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B. Poole/TucsonSentinel.com

Elizabeth Eggers of Oro Valley (in orange hat) will miss spring training here. On March 12, she hosted her brother John, his wife, Erin and their kids Ben, 12, Luke, 10, and Noah, 3, for a Diamondbacks game against the Oakland A's.

Tucson spring training schedule

If you want to catch one of the final spring training games in Tucson, here are your chances (home games):

Diamondbacks

  • Thursday, vs. CHC
  • Friday, vs. CWS
  • Tuesday, vs. TEX

Rockies

  • Thursday, vs. CIN
  • Saturday, vs. CWS
  • Tuesday, vs. LAD
  • Wednesday, vs. ARI

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