Mesa is rushing to install $750,000 worth of new batting cages for the Chicago Cubs at a training facility that the team is certain to leave within a few years.
The action comes as the Chicago Cubs are about to decide if they’ll keep their spring training in Mesa or consider a new home on the Gila River Indian Community or near Naples, Fla.
Either way, the team is looking for more modern facilities than Hohokam Park or Fitch Park, where Mesa plans to install the semi-enclosed batting cages.
The City Council is set to consider the cages Thursday, after delaying a planned Monday vote after Councilman Dave Richins objected to how quickly the city was trying to get a deal done.
Mesa needs to have the cages installed by the time Cubs players arrive in mid-February, which requires the city to make a decision this month. However, bids weren’t expected in time for the City Council to review them on dates it had already planned to meet this month.
In an unusual move, the City Council was set to vote Monday on a financial limit, $750,000, while letting City Manager Chris Brady award the contract to the lowest bidder once bids were due. Normally, the City Council has all the bids in front of it.
Richins said he was “uncomfortable” with that he considered to be a rushed process. The City Council should have known more about a project that the staff has been working on, he said.
The rest of the council agreed to add an extra meeting to its schedule on Thursday so it could see the bids.
The city considered the cages part of ongoing discussions with the Cubs to modernize spring training facilities so they’re more like the newer ones around the Valley, Brady said. Mesa spends about the same amount of money in a typical year on various improvements, Brady said, and the Cubs identified the cages as spring approached.
“Every year we’re remodeling, replacing, doing something out at the spring training facility,” Brady said. “This became the most important thing to be done to keep the facility up to standards,”
Cubs management was talking with Mesa about the cages even before the Ricketts family gained team ownership in October, Brady said. The cages weren’t tied to any negotiations over the Cubs’ spring training plans, Brady said. But he said the investment should help the team see how Mesa has worked with the Cubs as far back as the 1950s.
“Hopefully it continues to demonstrate our ongoing relationship,” Brady said.
The semi-enclosed cages allow players to practice batting during the rain. Also, the team is installing sophisticated equipment including cameras that record players’ movements.
The equipment needs to be protected from the elements, Brady said.
The four enclosed batting cages will remain at Fitch Park wherever the Cubs land. But Brady said they’ll be a good investment because the city plans to keep the park in use.
“We fully expect we will backfill that space with another team or other types of uses for baseball,” Brady said.