For the last 20 years, Tim and Theresa Bourges of Gold Canyon have kept up a tradition of what they call rebirth and spiritual renewal in their favorite green-and-gold cathedral where the baseball gods of their hometown team, the Oakland A’s, spend their spring — Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The couple formerly lived in California’s Bay Area, religiously following the Oakland A’s, but they decided to sell their gold house with green shutters and trim last year and move to the East Valley.
While attending spring training games each season, they enjoy the views of Papago Park often from the right-field stands of Phoenix Muni, where Tim Bourges said they have never had a bad seat.
This will be the first time since 1986 the couple won’t be attending A’s spring training games, because of family medical reasons. But, Tim Bourges vows to listen to the games on the radio where he can hear vendors in the background pushing cold bottles of beer from five-gallon buckets as they shout in the aisles with the passion of a preacher during a tent revival.
“You know how some people go to Sedona for spiritual reasons because of the vortexes?” Tim Bourges asked. “Well, I get that right here at Phoenix Muni. Spring training is the rebirth of baseball. You anticipate baseball all winter. Just driving past the stadium raises the hair on the back of my neck. It’s just a happy time.”
Oakland, defending champions of the American League West, opened its spring training season against the Milwaukee Brewers in Maryvale on Thursday and will host the Brewers in its home opener at 1:05 p.m. today.
It’s the A’s 39th year in the Valley.
After training at Scottsdale Community College from 1979 to 1983, the A’s moved to Phoenix Municipal Stadium at 5999 E. Van Buren St. near the Tempe border in the shadow of the buttes at Papago Park.
The intimate and fan-friendly park is nestled in the Salt River Project complex, just south of the Phoenix Zoo. Even with the draw of having some of baseball’s top superstars in the late 1980s and early ’90s — Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and, briefly, Reggie Jackson — Phoenix Muni’s uncomfortable bleacher seats led to its reputation of once being a bad place to see a game.
But in 2005, Phoenix pumped in $6 million of renovations to the outdated ballpark in exchange for a 10-year lease to keep the A’s from leaving the city.
There were 150 premium seats added behind home plate while outdoor and grass picnic areas were upgraded.
The dugouts were doubled in size and dropped below ground level, and a second story was added to the team’s offices.
The former open-air press box was enclosed and nearly quadrupled in size — from 800 square feet to 3,000.
The A’s pay the city slightly more than $500,000 a year to rent the stadium and generate $250,000 a year in direct tax to the city from ticket sales, parking costs and concessions, according to Rob Harmon, supervisor of facilities for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department.
Overall, Oakland pumps in an estimated $17 million a year to the Valley from residents and out-of-state fans visiting restaurants and hotels and other locales, Harmon said.
“We truly have a great partnership with the city of Phoenix,” said Ted Polakowski, director of minor league operations for the A’s, who oversees the training facilities.
One of the closest measures of economic impact — the long lines at Honey Bear’s BBQ restaurant, 5012 E. Van Buren St.
— will get longer.
“Spring training definitely has an impact,” said Dana Mitchell, Honey Bear’s manager. “The lines get longer, especially before and after the day games and the Saturday games. A lot of people come in here before and after the games to get the Party Packs to go.”
The start of spring training has ushered in autograph seekers to the local ballparks, some even seeking signatures of nonroster players.
“You have to make the most of it,” said J.J. Furmaniak, 27, an infielder who is a nonroster invitee.
He came to the A’s from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a minor league free agent this year. “You try to please as many fans as you can without interrupting your preparation.”
History: In Phoenix since 1984, in Arizona since 1969
Stadium: Phoenix Municipal Stadium, 5999 E. Van Buren St.
Stadium capacity: 8,776
First home game: Today vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 1:05 p.m.
Last year’s daily/total attendance: 7,067/113,077 Cost of facilities or most recent improvements: $6 million in 2005.
Location of practice facilities: Papago Baseball Complex, 1802 N. 64th St., Phoenix