It’s Up to the Ricketts but Mesa Sells Tickets

First off, I would like to congratulate the Ricketts family who have recently taken controlling interest of the Cubs and wish them the best of luck and a long, prosperous ownership of our favorite team. Actual Cub fans own the team! Wow. What a concept!

With the conclusion of last night’s Yankees-Phillies game, we come to the end of another baseball season. The evil empire got what they paid for and will put their 27th title trophy in the case. So, now the Cubs need to win only 25 World Series titles to catch the Yankees. Hey, I did wish the Ricketts “luck,” didn’t I?

You may have had a glimmer of enjoyment, or perhaps even more disappointment, depending on how you viewed the Yankees title knowing a kid from Peoria, Illinois, who broke into the majors as a Cub led the Bronx bankroll to the title. I’m not trying to take anything away from Joe Girardi, but I think most of us would like our chances as Manager with that lineup. So, anywho-hizzle, enough of that! The season is done, let’s talk spring training.

The Ricketts family is in AZ this week, and on their to-do list is looking at potential new spring training sites here in Mesa. As you probably know already, an interested and organized group from Naples Florida is making overtures to lure Cubs spring training to the Grapefruit league. The Cubs have an escape clause in their current spring training contract so that they could pay the City of Mesa $4.2 million and leave in 2012. All the sweet new digs around the Cactus League have made the Cubs a bit jealous, especially the upscale and architecturally appealing Camelback Ranch complex shared by the White Sox and Dodgers in Glendale.

Now this may only be a blip of Cubs related news up in Chicago, but here in AZ it’s a very big deal. So much so that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and a bevy of political who’s who of AZ hosted a meet and greet at the Red Mountain Ranch Country Club for the Ricketts on Tuesday evening. Even John McCain got into the act with videotaped comments for the Cubs first family. The message to the Ricketts was simple, if not a bit wanton – PLEASE, STAY IN ARIZONA, WE WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAKE YOU HAPPY!

The Cubs want to consolidate their spring training into one campus like complex and, currently have Hohokam Stadium for the spring games and Fitch Park for training. The two baseball parks are a half mile apart. The team is looking for a minimum of 120 contiguous acres for the new site. The vision is of a 15,000 seat Stadium, another half dozen training fields, a large weight room, clubhouse and offices for an 11 month a year minor league and spring baseball operations headquarters. The term “Wrigleyville West” keeps coming up in the discussion and for Mesa this would include room to develop hotels, shopping, restaurants, and even a possible Cactus League museum around the Cubs complex.

How it all would be paid for is a whole nuther discussion and we’re not at that point. Right now, it’s locations, land and concepts. Several land owners and developers here in AZ gave brief pitches to the Ricketts family yesterday. A yet-to-be-determined private/public mix of funding is going to be looked at with any of these deals.

What I haven’t talked about is the Naples offer, which right now is under wraps and a bit vague. There would also be financing issues as both FLA and AZ don’t want to put more burdens on the taxpayer. So, if all things are relatively equal as to the type of “Wrigleyville” spring complex both AZ and Florida are willing to build, why would the Cubs move across the country?

We know Arizona and the Cubs have a lot of spring training history — nearly 60 years worth — but history doesn’t mean much in today’s financially driven society. Witness the Dodgers exit from Vero Beach and 61 years at Dodgertown. So let’s put it on Florida to tell us why the Cubs should move there? Below are some of the main reasons expressed in articles and interviews about what Florida has to offer, and my responses.

1) The only marquee franchise the Cactus League has besides the Cubs is the Dodgers, while the Grapefruit League has the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Phillies.

Besides the fact that this is “East Coast” bias at its best, with the Giants, Angels, and White Sox not considered “marquee”, why would the Cubs want to dilute their brand and compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in the spring when the Cubs are king of the Cactus League? The Cubs own the top two ALL-TIME home spring training season attendance marks in all of MLB baseball, beating the Yankees. That’s money in the Ricketts’ pockets. With the Cubs top draw and number one here in the Cactus League, that’s proven. In Florida we just don’t know, no guarantees they have the same drawing power.

2) Including this year, teams who trained in the Grapefruit League have won 16 of the last 19 World Series. So, the Cubs should move because that’s where winning teams train.

This argument sounds like one of the best reasons for the Cubs to think about moving but under closer scrutiny it’s mushier than a Florida swamp. Consider that until 1998 only 8 teams held spring training in Arizona. That meant 20 teams in Florida, and until 2003, only 10 teams trained in Arizona. As you can see, the odds were huge in favor of the league with 20 teams as opposed to 8 or 10 teams.

Good teams win the World Series not spring training states. Despite being one of only 6 teams in the Cactus League, the Oakland As won three straight WS Titles in 1972, 73, and 74 playing spring ball right here in Mesa, AZ. Or how about the great Yankees teams from 1948 to 1953 who won 5 straight World Series? They trained in Florida from 1948 to 50, but in 1951 at the request of Giants owner Horace Stoneham, the Yankees switched training sites to Arizona for the 1951 season. Yes, the Yankees still won the series that year after training in AZ, then went back to Florida and won in 1952 and 53.

In recent years the Diamondbacks, Angels, and White Sox have all won the World Series. In the last seven years, 5 teams have moved from Florida to Arizona, and with the arrival this coming spring of the Reds to AZ, the Cactus League will finally be on even terms with the Grapefruit League with 15 teams each.

3) The Cubs would be closer to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for scouting purposes by being in Florida.

While that would be true, the team has scouts who cover this territory anyhow. With the islands being only so big, it’s not like the Cubs’ scouts can’t see all the talent available. Being in Florida would mean the Cubs are a lot further from the Arizona Rookie League and the Arizona Fall League in which the Cubs have teams and major interests, especially the fall league with the top minor league talent from all MLB teams.

4) The beaches.

AZ doesn’t have the ocean right at our door, this is true, but Florida folks tell me if you can go snowboarding or skiing on a mountain slope during the day, then drive a couple hours and watch a spring training game in short sleeves that evening, as I did this past spring, that’s not too bad. Arizona has a great central location in the Southwest so that just about the time it takes for you to drive a long stretch in the Grapefruit League from one team to another, you can be at the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, LA, San Diego, or the Mexican white sand beaches of Rocky Point.

The bottom line on all this is that the Cubs are king of the Cactus League and Arizona knows it. The Cubs help generate a huge amount of money into the states economy — $52 million a year according to a recent study.

Rancher and businessman Dwight (Pat) Patterson, known as the “Father of the Cactus League,” was a pivotal figure in bringing the Cubs here to spring train in 1952. He loved the Cubs and was also instrumental in getting previous Cubs spring stadiums built, including the current one that honors his name – Hohokam Stadium, (Dwight W. Patterson Field).

It will take the same type of perseverance and drive from Arizona leaders that Patterson exhibited to get a deal done and build “Wrigleyville West”. Mesa and the Cubs have been a great match for a long time. I’m confident the Ricketts family will decide to stay west, as have Cubs greats Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, and Ryne Sandberg, who all own homes in Arizona.

In spring of 2011, all 15 of the Cactus League teams will be playing in the greater Phoenix area. What a fantastic set-up for fans–one central location where you can see half the MLB teams with minimal driving and maximum sunshine. After you’re burned out from another Chicago winter, head south to the Cactus League and the Valley of the Sun to watch the Cubs at Wrigleyville West. Yeah, that just sounds right.

Photos
Top - Tom Ricketts, left, talks with Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne
Sandberg, his wife, Margaret, and Mesa officials.
Photo by Ralph Freso, East ValleyTribune

Second down - Camelback Ranch, White Sox and Dodgers
new spring complex

Third down - The planned Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies
future spring complex on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community land

Fourth down – The Cubs current ballpark, Hohokam Stadium
in the PA booth, who is that dude?

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2 Responses to It’s Up to the Ricketts but Mesa Sells Tickets

  1. Lou says:

    Hey Tim, we interviewed Robert Brinton about the Mesa plan/proposal a couple weeks ago and he mentioned that the 1/2 mile between Fitch and the stadium wasn't an issue at all, which was contrary to the angle that Carrie Muskat and others had written about. He mentioned that the main goal of a new complex was state-of-the-art training facilities in addition to the fan amenities you mentioned.

    Here's hoping the Cubs are in Mesa for another 50 years!

    Lou

  2. Tim says:

    Hey Lou, nice job on the interview! The 1/2 mile may not have been a big deal prior to talks of a new complex but it means the half mile distance is no longer acceptable. The Cubs will want all AZ or Florida facilities located in one central campus location for nearly year round baseball operations.

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