Giants Diamondbacks Spring Training Baseball
An usher watches as San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Steve Edlefsen throws to Arizona Diamondbacks' Xavier Nady during the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick near Scottsdale. Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011.

Baseball fans eager to see a new spring training complex helped set record Cactus League ticket sales this year, with nearly 1.6 million fan attending games.

And for only the second time in 20 years, the Chicago Cubs weren’t the top draw in the Cactus League. The new Salt River Fields at Talking Stick lured the most fans, with the Arizona Diamondbacks selling 189,737 tickets and the Colorado Rockies coming in second with 169,571 attendees.

“I think everybody wanted to go see a game at the new stadium this year,” said Brad Curtis, Cactus League president.

The league drew 1,595,614 fans this spring, breaking a 2009 record. The boost reflects an improving economy in general but also can help propel the local recovery, as the Cactus League estimates spring training brings about $350 million a year to the state.

Beyond the new facility, Curtis credits having more games than last year and good weather. Only four days were rainouts.

The Cubs’ fourth-place finish wasn’t seen a blow to Mesa, where voters in November approved a $99 million training complex set to open in 2013. The Cubs were about 40 tickets short of third-place New York Giants, said Robert Brinton, president of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau. He figures the Cubs will draw more fans next year now that people have seen the new Salt River complex.

“We still had the attendance that we had last year, there’s nothing sad about it,” Brinton said. “Was there some cannibalism? Sure. But it helped the league as a whole and that’s the way it works.”

He expects the Cubs will set records with a new stadium – both because of higher interest and because it will have more than Hohokam Stadium’s 13,000 seats. The stadium, which will be under design later this year, could have a capacity of up to 15,000.

With the season over, the league will spend the next month studying the economic impact by determining how many fans were from out of state based on hotel bookings. Any ticket sold helps, Brinton said, but out-of-state fans do more for the economy because they’re likely staying at hotels, renting cars, eating out more and traveling elsewhere.

“A lot of the attendance growth this year was local folks going to the Diamondbacks,” Brinton said. “Those do not create the same impact as out-of-state folks.”

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