Chicago Cubs Choose Spring Training Site

As an Arizona Diamondbacks fan, my time is typically focused on news items that impact one team. That viewpoint sometimes leads to a myopic view of Major League Baseball. Obviously this sport is bigger than a single team after all the Diamondbacks need an opponent to play at Chase Field.

In my own little universe, my scope of interest extends beyond the confines of Chase Field and even beyond the Diamondbacks schedule. As hard as it is to believe, I even think about things beyond baseball. Ok, I made that last part up.

Major League Baseball Spring Training is divided into two distinct areas. Clubs will train in either Florida or Arizona. The Florida teams make up the Grapefruit League while those in Arizona are assigned to the Cactus League.

The identities and number of clubs in each of the two leagues kind of ebbs and flows each year. The competition for getting a team to move their Spring Training facilities from Florida to Arizona or vice versa is extremely fierce.

Not only is there prestige of having a Major League Baseball team associated with your city or state, there can also be a significant economic boon when players and fans come in for the six-week period that makes up Spring Training.

For a long period of time, the Cactus League in Arizona watched the number of teams dwindle as clubs moved to Florida to bigger and better venues than were offered in the Grand Canyon state. That situation changed in the mid-1990’s when the state began making a concerted effort to keep Spring Training in Arizona.

A Stadium District was established and taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars were enacted to provide the revenue necessary to build and maintain Spring Training facilities. As a result, teams became more interested in returning to the Cactus League.

Spring Training in Arizona holds several advantages over Florida. Most of the teams training in the Cactus League are in relatively close proximity to each other making travel minimal between practice fields and stadiums. With the exception of the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks who train in Tucson through 2010; all the other teams are located in the Phoenix valley with less than a 30 minute commute between stadiums.

Florida sites are much more decentralized making some trips up to three hours from a team’s training facility to an opposing team’s stadium. Six hours on a bus means less time for practicing and preparing for the season.

The Cactus has been in a strong growth position adding several teams and new venues in the past few years including the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals in Surprise, the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers in Glendale, the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians in Goodyear, and starting next year the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale.

These teams join the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners in Peoria, Los Angeles Angels in Tempe, San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Oakland Athletics in Phoenix, Milwaukee Brewers in Maryvale, and of course the Chicago Cubs in Mesa.

The final team, the Chicago Cubs, are perhaps the crown jewel of the Cactus League. Although the Cubs have been perennial losers in the standings they have the most loyal fan base in all of baseball. Fans flock to HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa to watch the Cubbies each spring as they have done for the past 54 years.

When the Cubs changed ownership last fall, the new management team expressed an interest in relocating the Cubs Spring Training facilities from Arizona to a new venue in Naples Florida. This news was greeted with all the excitement of the Swine Flu.

Civic leaders in Mesa and state leaders from Arizona were up in arms which was trivial compared to the outrage voiced by long-time Cubs fans who make the annual trek to Arizona each March. Cactus League officials with Mesa city officials worked tirelessly to try and convince the Cubs to remain in Arizona.

Florida officials likewise turned up the heat offering all kinds of incentives to lure the Cubs and their fans to Naples. The Cubs themselves were in the drivers seat. Having these two municipalities fighting over them meant concessions would be made to the team to get exactly what they wanted.

What the Cubs desired was a new state-of-the-art Spring Training facility that they alone would occupy. They were not interested in sharing a facility with another team like had been built lately for other clubs. The Cubs also wanted surrounding land that could be developed to make Spring Training with the Cubs a premier destination, not just a trip to a ballgame.

There were talks of hotels, convention centers, neighborhoods reminiscent of Wrigleyville in Chicago. All of these things of course would be provided at a low or no cost to the team.

For months the Cubs negotiated with Mesa and Naples seeing what could be gained for rewarding a city with the rights to have their names associated with the Cubs. Finally yesterday word leaked out of Chicago that the Cubs had made a decision to stay in Arizona.

A new $84 million Spring Training complex will be built in east Mesa for the team that will include the largest Spring Training stadium in the Cactus League with a capacity of over 15,000. The complex will also have a minimum of four practice fields, offices, training rooms, and clubhouses.

The Cubs will also retain naming rights for a sponsor and will control all signage at the complex. The team will also manage the stadium and facility. The area around the stadium will be available for development although none was announced at this moment.

No design for the facility has been completed but the Cubs will have final say in that as well. While this may sound like Mesa and the Cactus League gave away the farm in order to keep the Cubs, it works out as a win-win situation.

The Cubs are the largest draw in the Cactus League and it is estimated that the team accounts for approximately $50 million in tourism dollars each year, not bad for a six-week period.

In the end everyone is happy, well everyone that is except the people in Naples Florida who will have to travel to Mesa Arizona if they want to catch a Cubs Spring Training game. I hear the team will make them a great deal on a travel package.

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