Instead of finding a replacement major league baseball team for spring training, officials with the Chicago White Sox have proposed helping Pima County attract a year-round, national youth baseball tournament.
The Chicago White Sox plan to leave Pima County for a new stadium being built in Glendale. If the White Sox can get out of their contract with Pima County, they could be training in Glendale as soon as next year.
But a provision in their lease for the county’s Tucson Electric Park requires them to find a replacement team if they bolt before the agreement expires in 2012.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez said the proposal for a youth baseball tournament came from White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf in a meeting last week.
Valadez said the proposal is in a preliminary stage, but the idea has the potential to have a significant economic impact as young players and their families converge on Tucson from around the country for tournaments throughout the year.
“It’s something we’re looking at very seriously,” Valadez said.
Officials estimate spring training has a $30 million regional economic impact.
A youth baseball tournament, however, would not solve the problem of keeping spring training in Tucson.
The Colorado Rockies can also opt out of their contract with Tucson if there aren’t three teams in the area.
The Arizona Diamondbacks train in Tucson, but they can also leave if they are the only team training in the city.
But Valadez said the county can work on saving spring training without passing up the opportunity to host youth tournaments. The White Sox contract expires in 2012, at which point the team could leave without providing the county with any alternative.
“If the option is no team at the end of 2012, but we have this facility that kids and their families will be traveling to from around the country and that would have the brand of the White Sox and Major League Baseball on it, that would be a positive thing,” Valadez said.
John Kaites, an attorney representing the White Sox in Arizona, said the youth tournament is one of several ideas the team is considering as it becomes less likely a replacement team can be found in the next year or two.
Two teams that are relocating from Florida — the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers — are headed to the Phoenix area. The Cincinnati Reds, who were once considering a move, are now expected to remain in Florida.
Kaites also said that nothing about the youth tournament proposal would prevent Pima County from luring another Major League Baseball team in the future, whether from the Valley or from Florida.
Kaites praised a recent effort to start a Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority to protect the future of spring training in Tucson.
Huckelberry, meanwhile, said the White Sox presented very few details about the proposal, making it difficult to know whether it would make an acceptable alternative.
“We are willing to listen,” Huckelberry said. “We are open to anything that is the economic equivalent.”
Huckelberry said the county still would prefer a replacement team, but he isn’t sure that’s possible.