The Cubs season has progressed in less than stellar fashion since the team was leading the NL Central about a month ago. Now 9 games back of the Cardinals and 7.5 games back in the Wild-Card race…things are looking bleak unless something miraculous takes hold of the squad.
In a recent article Lou Piniella has taken on some of the blame for the Cubs failures this season but he doesn’t do the actual hitting, pitching, and fielding. Injuries have contributed no doubt, however the list of Cubs players whose production is down this season is substantial. When the team left Arizona after spring training in March it was a far different team in terms of personnel than last season’s 97 game winner. The fact is the Cubs and Jim Hendry didn’t just tinker or tweak the two time division winning club prior to opening day 2009, they changed the face of the team…only to discover like Michael Jackson that face changes don’t always turn out for the better.
The right “team chemistry” is a buzz phrase in today’s sports world and with good reason, winning teams have it, losing teams are always looking to find it. So it hurts just a bit more when your team had it and then appears to have lost it.
The City of Mesa commissioned a study to gauge the Cubs spring training impact on Mesa, the valley, and Arizona…spoiler alert…it’s huge! Upwards of $52 million per year. So where does that leave Mesa and the Cubs who have an opt-out clause and can leave Mesa after the 2012 spring season?
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa along with some of the other city top dogs are headed to Chicago in September to talk with Cubs officials about what it will take to keep the Cubs in Mesa. Reportedly the Cubs want more seats at Hohokam and improved facilities at Fitch, to include larger locker and weight rooms along with another ball field.
Sure the Cubs want improvements to the Hohokam and Fitch facilities, but more than that I think they are angling for a new Stadium and complex. Who can blame them looking at the White Sox and Dodgers new digs along with the planned Diamondbacks/Rockies 140 acre spring training complex to be built on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian land…It’s clear the stakes have gone up. The Cubs are the cream of the Cactus League in terms of attendance, revenue, and fan interest. With the sale of the team finally coming to fruition the Ricketts family is set to begin a new era for the Cubs.
The bargaining chip being used by the Cubs is mainly Naples Florida, however that city is a long way from being considered a serious threat at this time. Naples has only recently decided to form a committee to look into the idea of trying to lure the Cubs to Florida’s Collier County. The current economic climate is an issue with both Mesa and Naples as both cities do not want to use any public funding or increase residents tax burden for spring training facilities.
Arizona’s Cactus League has grown and prospered to a position where they will be on even footing with the Grapefruit League come next spring with 15 teams in each league. The Cubs are a mainstay of the Cactus league and have been training in Arizona almost exclusively since 1952. The Cactus League has a great set-up, much better than Florida in terms of the proximity of teams to one another and travel distances…with the DBacks and Rockies pulling out of Tucson by 2011 and headed up I-10 the valley of the sun will be the ultimate spring training Mecca.
The Cubs mean too much to Mesa, the Phoenix area, Arizona, and the Cactus League to see them move 2300 miles east. As I’ve said before, Mesa will do what’s needed to keep the Cubs training here…what that is exactly, remains to be seen. The Mayor’s trip to Chicago in September could yield some answers but the question remains, are short term improvements at Hohokam and Fitch going to satisfy the Cubs new owners long term spring training desires?