The finales of Cactus League baseball at Tucson Electric Park and Hi Corbett Field were played earlier this week, representing another loss for the "little guy" under the poor leadership of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
The greater metropolitan Phoenix area needs another spring training tenant like the desert needs another dune buggy, yet the Colorado Rockies and (in a particularly heartless move) the local favorite Arizona Diamondbacks will move up Interstate 10 to join the already overpopulated Phoenix baseball scene.
Just as bubblegum cards are now made for collectors and not for kids, baseball is ditching smaller-town fans in favor of more luxury suites and less travel. This move sends the message that baseball is too big for cities like Tucson, Yuma and Palm Springs (the last of the California spring training sites before losing the Angels in 1992). There was a time when travel wasn't a concern for these clubs; in the 1930s, the Chicago Cubs made Catalina Island their springtime home because of the welcoming climate, not because of money. Are we supposed to believe that a pro sports team today can't afford a few more bus trips in March?
I am a Padres fan still lamenting the team's move from Yuma to Peoria in 1994, and the departures of the Rockies and the Diamondbacks from Tucson only reinforce my suspicion that baseball today is more interested in appealing to executives than to schoolchildren. Sixty years from now, grandfathers will no longer take their grandsons to ballgames, because baseball will have lost the sense of nostalgia that keeps it alive. Baseball will have no meaning to the generation of children growing up today, and people will wonder what became of the game's fan base.
With the abandonment of Desert Sun Stadium, followed by the advent of the Arizona Diamondbacks a few years later, how many Padres fans do you suppose are left in Yuma today? A great partnership between the San Diego Padres and the Caballeros de Yuma, a pairing that began with the first Padres team in 1969, was unceremoniously dissolved years ago in favor of suburbia, and the charming town of Yuma lost part of its identity. Now the people of Tucson share the same fate, no thanks to Major League Baseball's selfish need to have 15 ball clubs within 45 minutes of one another. The city of Phoenix can enjoy all four major professional sports year-round; what about the small-market fans who get to see nothing better than minor-league ball? MLB is losing its grip on potentially thousands of fans in those areas, while businesses in those areas miss out on thousands in taxes and tourist revenue. The Diamondbacks are especially egregious in abandoning a fan base just 100 miles away.
Whatever intrigue, innocence and splendor the Cactus League had remaining has evaporated, leaving behind the true nature of the game today. Major League Baseball has become just another cold, distant, elitist corporate enterprise with no loyalty to Middle America, leaving its small-town fans behind without so much as a tip of the cap.
John Robert Crawford is a native of San Diego, a freelance writer and a lifelong Padres fan. He has fond memories of once seeking autographs in Yuma from the likes of Tony Gwynn, Roberto Alomar and Benito Santiago.