Arizona looking to woo Reds
Carrie Watters, Jessica Coomes and Tony Lombardo
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 13, 2007 12:00 AM
Voters in Sarasota, Fla., recently rejected paying for renovations to the Cincinnati Reds' training stadium, which leaves the team looking for a new spring home - and Arizona wondering if it could snare another Florida team.
Eyes are on Tucson, where the Chicago White Sox need to find a replacement team to get out of their lease and move to the Valley. The Sox plan to team up with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a spring-training ballpark that Glendale hopes to open in 2009.
"We would love to have the Reds in the Cactus League. The logical place, considering the dynamics, would be Tucson Electric Park," said Brad Wright, an Arizona Sports & Tourism Authority board member who heads the Cactus League committee. "The first priority is a commitment to Tucson and the White Sox to make sure they can meet their obligation there."
The sports authority, which operates only in Maricopa County, has no authority in Tucson but is offering its political clout.
Gov. Janet Napolitano's office, which supported nabbing the long-coveted Dodgers from Florida, also says Tucson is a critical piece of the state's spring-training league.
But Jeff Schatzki, director of the governor's Arizona Baseball and Softball Commission, said it's not his position to tell other municipalities to back off of pursuing a piece of Cactus League action, which pumped a reported $311 million into the economy last season.
Nor would Schatzki tell a franchise where to locate. "It's a business decision," he said.
The Sox had no comment as of late last week, and the Reds are keeping mum on whether they'll stay in Florida.
"We are considering all of our options, including Arizona," Reds spokesman Rob Butcher said.
White Sox representative John Kaites has asked publicly that other Arizona cities not actively seek teams until a replacement is found in Tucson.
But Tucson is not the only city that could handle another team:
• Goodyear has made it no secret it eventually wants a second team to join the Cleveland Indians, who will move there from Florida in 2009.
• Casa Grande had been looking for a team to jump-start spring baseball there.
• Surprise has space to accommodate a third team with the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals, but the city is not actively seeking one.
In its 4,431-4,206 vote Nov. 6, Sarasota voters decided not to spend $16 million to help rebuild the Reds' spring-training home, Ed Smith Stadium. That is forcing the Reds to start scouting for a new home for as early as 2009.
Tucson has faced criticism that it is too far to travel from the Valley, where nine of Arizona's 12 teams currently train.
The closeness of the Cactus League's ballparks has been touted as an advantage over the Grapefruit League, where teams must crisscross Florida.
Schatzki and officials in Pima County brushed off the idea that Tucson is too isolated. Indeed, it's where the Cactus League got its start in 1946, with the Indians in Tucson and the New York Giants in Phoenix.
"Spring training has its roots in Tucson," Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry said.
But the Old Pueblo is in a precarious spot.
It has two parks. The Colorado Rockies play at Hi Corbett, which the city operates. The Arizona Diamondbacks and White Sox share Tucson Electric Park, which Pima County operates.
If the Sox can't find a replacement and head north when their lease expires in 2012, the Rockies could opt to pull out, too.
Tucson officials say that the Diamondbacks and Rockies are committed to the area and that they are committed to getting a third team.
"It's more interesting now that the Sarasota vote has taken place," he said.
Casa Grande had about given up hope of landing a Major League team after Goodyear secured the Indians and Glendale landed the White Sox and Dodgers in 2006.
"I'm not sure we have that same level of enthusiasm," Casa Grande Mayor Bob Jackson said.
Still, Bill Brudwill, who has spearheaded Casa Grande's efforts, went from dejected to enthusiastic after hearing about the Sarasota election.
"We could fire this thing back up in a heartbeat," he said.
Goodyear has talked preliminarily with the Reds, among many baseball teams, Mayor Jim Cavanaugh said.
The mayor said he likes the idea of having another Ohio team in Goodyear to join the Indians.
"Goodyear, I'm sure, would love to have the Reds," Cavanaugh said.
Wright said the funding formula, which currently stands at funding 50 percent of Goodyear's one-team facility and two-thirds of Glendale's two-team facility, was firm and would not change if Goodyear picked up a second team. The sports authority has said its funding for new ballparks is tapped for the next quarter-century.
Reds officials visited the Surprise ballpark nine months ago and asked if the city was interested in a third team, said Mark Coronado, the city's community and recreation services director.
While having the Reds is an "intriguing" option, Coronado said the cost would be a hurdle.
"Without a funding source, it's a major challenge, not just for Surprise but for any community," Coronado said, adding it would take as much as $20 million to accommodate a third team.