December 6, 2006 - It looks as if Chicago's south side baseball team may be on the verge of packing up its sox and heading out of town - not from the Windy City, rather the Old Pueblo.
The city of Glendale is tantalizing the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers with a new $75 million facility to relocate their spring training sites from Tucson and Vero Beach, Fla. respectively. The deal likely hinges on the Dec. 4 Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority meeting in which the board will consider funding close to $50 million of the new stadium.
Fortunately for the White Sox fans of Southern Arizona, the ChiSox have a lease with Pima County and Tucson Electric Park that keeps the team in Tucson through 2013.
But what would the area be like without the White Sox inhabiting Tucson every spring? Would you notice if they were gone or feel the impact?
Last spring, 98,728 fans flocked to TEP to catch the White Sox. Winning the World Series the previous October certainly helped to bolster those numbers but Pima County can't rely on the White Sox to win the World Series every year - especially considering the team went 88 years between titles.
Losing the White Sox will leave Tucson, the second largest city in the state, with only two teams taking up its March residence here. Granted the White Sox aren't an original Tucson entity. The team has only been in town since 1998 (the same year the Arizona Diamondbacks also set up shop at TEP) and a move to Glendale would be the Sox' 30th spring training site - including Waxahachie, Texas and French Lick, Ind. - in its 106 year history.
Losing almost 100,000 fans will put a significant crimp in the $30 million economic impact that Tucson's three spring training teams annually generate - not to mention making it harder to get tickets for the city's remaining two teams. Throughout the state, the Cactus League creates upward of $200 million in revenue, says the AzSTA.
This should be a time when Tucson is attracting teams to winter here - not lose them. The city was left with a bitter taste in its mouth when the Cleveland Indians packed its bags after 45 years. The Old Pueblo welcomed the Colorado Rockies a year later, but it's just not the same - there's no allure to housing an expansion team, especially with old time franchises such as the San Francisco Giants and Chicago's other team, the Cubs, training in the northern part of the state.
If training at TEP or Hi Corbett Field (former home of the Indians and current residence of the Rockies) isn't tantalizing enough to attract or keep a team, perhaps it's time to look elsewhere in the region.
Marana likes to fancy itself as the next Scottsdale, maybe it's time to explore putting a brand new facility and team there. For years we've heard rumblings about Marana attempting to attract Rillito Park Race Track and the Tucson Rodeo to its cotton-filled pastures; perhaps spring training baseball could thrive there.
A park in Marana would not only create jobs, it could be an economic boom for the area's hotels, shops and restaurants. The town has already lured the PGA here - perhaps it's time to think bigger than horse racing and bull riding. The park could then be used throughout the other 11 months of the year for anything from high school sports and national tournaments to concerts to curing the overwhelming need for more recreational fields.
It would also be a quicker trip up Interstate-10 to play Phoenix teams.
The AzSTA has supplied $68.3 million in funding to Surprise Stadium, Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Tempe Diablo Stadium and Scottsdale Stadium. Over the course of the next 30 years, AzSTA has plans to kick in another $205 million toward refurbishing existing Cactus League facilities.
When is some of that money coming down to Southern Arizona? Let's not let Tucson become the next Yuma, which lost the Baltimore Orioles after one year and the San Diego Padres after 24.