With Wednesday’s opening of the spring training baseball season, Arizona’s Cactus League and Florida’s Grapefruit League are on the verge of parity. But the same cannot be said for the East Valley and the West Valley.
The shout of “Play ball!” soon will be heard at two new West Valley stadiums: Camelback Ranch-Glendale, home to the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, and Goodyear Ballpark, where the Cleveland Indians will be joined next year by the other Ohio team, the Cincinnati Reds.
Once the Reds move from Florida, as the Dodgers and Indians have, that will bring the division of teams between the states to an even 15-15.
However, the East Valley has missed out on this comeback.
Next year, the West Valley will have nine teams to the East Valley’s four and Tucson’s two.
Derrick Hall, president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has said any new spring training complex in the Valley should be located in the east or northeast. And if not there, then Tempe or Chandler.
“The Westside is becoming a bit oversaturated with the additions of spring complexes in Glendale and Goodyear,” Hall said in a recent online chat with Diamondbacks fans.
Ray Artigue is the executive director of the MBA sports-business specialization at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. As he explained, the West Valley’s baseball boom can be explained as smaller but growing communities acting more aggressive than established cities in the east.
“It bears further witness to fact,” Artigue said, “if it weren’t good for their economies, then why would these municipalities and their city fathers work so hard to attract these franchises?”
However, Cactus League president Robert Brinton believes there’s no threat in the tilt to the west. And Brinton would have reason to complain if that wasn’t so; he also leads the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It’s just a matter of how the league has evolved,” Brinton said.
Brinton noted that four of the five West Valley stadiums constructed since the early 1990s host two teams. So, if a city is willing to spend the capital on twice the number of clubhouses, practice fields and offices, it will reap double the windfall when the games begin.
Also, Brinton said, the East Valley still has the most popular teams. The Chicago Cubs (Mesa) and San Francisco Giants (Scottsdale) were one-two in attendance, drawing a combined 330,200 fans to their 30 home games. Tempe’s tenant, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, placed fifth.
The Dodgers are expected to draw very well in their first Cactus League season, as their fans are now much closer. From 1946 until last season, the team trained in Vero Beach, Fla.
Also, the spring home of the Dodgers and White Sox may prove to be a draw in itself, no matter who is playing.
Camelback Ranch-Glendale is 141 acres of baseball bliss atop former fields of broccoli and brussels sprouts.
Aesthetic touches abound, such as the colors of rust and desert dust, echoing the Southwest’s natural splendor. There are fan-friendly features, like the amphitheater effect of concrete benches behind a practice field’s backstop and an open concourse behind the stadium’s Cactus League-most 10,099 seats.
Meanwhile, the pending sale of the Chicago Cubs could carry a devastating blow for the East Valley — but no one believes that will happen.
The team’s lease at Mesa-owned Hohokam Stadium and Fitch Park carries a buyout clause; beginning in 2012, the new owner could pay $4.2 million and leave for greener pastures.
“We’re very much committed to doing what we need to make sure the Cubs are in Mesa for a long time,” Mayor Scott Smith said. “We have a great relationship with them, and they are certainly at the top of our list of priorities.”
Brinton’s statement on this possibility was bolder, albeit painful for a team in a 101-year championship drought: “The Cubs will win the World Series before then.”
Smith said the city and team have yet to discuss potential improvements to Hohokam and Fitch, but that’s because the Cubs are in the process of being sold.
“I’m sure that once the ownership situation is resolved, we’ll sit down and start having some detailed, substantive discussions,” Smith said.
The last East Valley city to lose a team was Chandler, more than a decade ago. The Milwaukee Brewers trained at Compadre Stadium from 1986 until 1997, and then moved to a facility in the Maryvale area of west Phoenix.