It was a cool evening on February 27, 1998. The weather channel was predicting possible rain. I had a 2 hour drive ahead of me and I was not looking forward to getting to Tucson only to find out that weather had destroyed what I had been looking forward to for nearly four years. I sat and debated what to do. Finally, I grabbed my jacket jumped into the car and started my drive south.
As I arrived in Tucson I could barely control my excitement. It was finally here, Spring Training had arrived and with it, brought a new stadium and in this case a new franchise. The Arizona Diamondbacks would begin play and this year marked the first time ever that they would hold Major League Spring Training.
Shortly after the team was awarded on March 9, 1995 plans began for all aspects of the organization. From building the team to deciding on facilities that would house all levels of players and coaches; each decision built towards Opening Day. Tonight would see the latest step towards that goal.
That night the Diamondbacks would christen a new Spring Training facility that they would share with the Chicago White Sox. Tucson Electric Park was being touted as one of the best training facilities in baseball. It seemed to have everything. There were 6 full practice fields and 2 half fields. There were 5 bay batting tunnels and 12 pitching mounds. They had a bunting cage and 2 underground batting tunnels. There was even a practice sliding pit. The center of this Spring Training complex was the stadium itself. The 11,000 capacity stadium was filled that night to overflowing.
The excitement was equal parts of new team and new stadium. The Diamondbacks did not disappoint that night winning the game in dramatic come from behind fashion over the Chicago White Sox. Over the following month 200,000 fans visited Tucson Electric Park and came away impressed with the facility.
Besides the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox, the stadium was also home to the Tucson Sidewinders, the Triple-A affiliate for the Arizona Diamondbacks. This changed after the 2008 season when the Sidewinders moved to Reno Nevada and became the Reno Aces.
Spring Training at Tucson Electric Park was always a fun experience. Each year; I try to make a trip south during March to watch the Diamondbacks. The trip is always an adventure. The roads are always overcrowded and the stadium seems underutilized.
This past year the Chicago White Sox left Tucson Electric Park; buying out their lease to move to Camelback Ranch in Glendale. They opened a new complex that they are sharing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The move left just 2 teams to play in Tucson – the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies had in their lease a clause that stated if less than 3 teams trained in Tucson they could break their lease which they did in May 2009. The Diamondbacks had a clause in their lease stating they could break their lease if less than 2 teams were in Tucson. With the planned departure of the Rockies; the Diamondbacks exercised their clause and notified Tucson they too would be leaving after the 2010 season.
With these two announcements the question on everyone’s mind was where the Diamondbacks and Rockies would end up? Given the economy and state of the Cactus League it was assumed Colorado and Arizona would elect to share a complex. That assumption was validated today when the two teams announced their plans to relocate to the Salt River Pima Indian reservation in a new state-of-the-art facility to be built on tribal lands encompassing 140-acres located between the 101 freeway and Pima Road.
It will include 12 practice fields which will surround a new 11,000-seat capacity stadium. Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall and Rockies President Keli McGregor attended the ground breaking ceremony this morning marking the beginning of a 19 month construction project that will be ready for its first game in February 2011.
I have the same level of excitement at this announcement that I did that night in 1998. Starting in 2011 the Diamondbacks will be in the valley for all of Spring Training instead of just a few select games when they ventured away from Tucson. I sat and dreamed about the sunny afternoons of spring sitting and watching the Diamondbacks prepare for the upcoming season. Not everyone shared in the excitement of this announcement. My wife for one lamented, “oh great the season just went from April to February. You are never going to be home now!” She may have a valid point there.