The futuer of Major League spring training in Tucson could come from its past.
The Chicago White Sox, co-tenants with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Pima County's Kino Sports Complex since 1998, may be playing their final season in Tucson this year or next.
Under a widely discussed scenario, the White Sox will move spring training operations to Tempe's Diablo Stadium, when the Anaheim Angels move out to a new facility in Goodyear.
The White Sox will satisfy the Angels' requirement to not leave Tempe empty. And Pima County would need a new team to fill the vacancy left by the White Sox, whose 15-year agreement was slated to end in 2013.
Tucson's new team? Perhaps the Cleveland Indians, the first club to permanently train in Tucson.
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has seen and heard enough of the press and banter that his team was leaving Tucson. He dialed County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry last week to tell him he had no immediate plans to leave the Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way.
"He said that there was nothing to report," Huckelberry said about his Christmas Eve chat with Reinsdorf. "He said they're happy with Tucson and Pima County and they'll be here in a few weeks (when spring training starts)."
Reinsdorf didn't say anything about 2005 and beyond, and Huckelberry says the Indians are the most frequently mentioned replacement. The county, to prevent any further financial losses at the training complex, must have a second team.
Supervisor Ray Carroll, a Republican who is a Chicago native and White Sox fan, said he immediately talked to Huckelberry after reading in a Chicago newspaper in November that Reinsdorf was looking to move his spring training base.
"I know now that it has been confirmed that Reinsdorf is looking. He has home up there, and maybe he wants to have his team closer to his adoptive city," Carroll said.
Reinsdorf, a lawyer and real estate investor who also owns the Chicago Bulls of the NBA, sold his El Dorado Country Club Estates town home in Tucson 10 years ago. He has an estate in the hyper-exclusive El Maro section of Paradise Valley.
The White Sox would likely do better in Tempe. They attracted 72,863 fans during 2003 spring training at Kino's Tucson Electric Park. That is ninth among the 12 Cactus League teams.
"I know they haven't been a huge draw," Carroll said. "But I think they were building a base. I just hope we have a choice of (replacement) teams."
The Indians moved their spring training to Tucson in 1947. But the long relationship began to fray in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The city was stingy with outlay for improvements for the aging Hi Corbett Field, and Florida had begun an all-out hustle to boost its Grapefruit League, including raids on the Cactus League.
Cleveland signed to move to a new facility in Homestead, Fla., leaving Hi Corbett and Arizona after the 1992 season. Homestead was leveled by Hurricane Andrew, and the Indians instead moved to Winter Haven. Winter Haven's Chain of Lakes Park is slated for housing and commercial development, and a new facility is being planned for the Indians--and to attract the Baltimore Orioles.
That shakeup is leading to a bidding and enticement war similar to the one last decade. After the Indians left Tucson, the White Sox, the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, who share a facility in Surprise, joined the Cactus League.
The spring training change is being driven by the new owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno, the Tucson native who made nearly $1 billion from his multinational billboard business. Moreno, who has a home in Phoenix, has said that not only will he not renew the Angels' lease in Tempe, but that he wants out before it expires in 2007.
Moreno notified Tempe about his plans in a letter several months ago, Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano said.
"If they leave early, they will have to have a replacement team or the Angels will have to pay anyway," Giuliano said.
"It won't sit empty," Giuliano said of Diablo Stadium. "It is too important to the Cactus League inventory. The White Sox have expressed interest. Other teams have expressed interest."
Moreno is a partner in SunChase development in the Estrella Mountain Ranch area of Goodyear. Two weeks ago, the Goodyear City Council voted 6-1 to endorse Moreno's plan for a $30 million facility. Moreno and his partner will provide 70 acres and most of the construction costs, with the plan of being reimbursed by Cactus League-restricted tax revenues. Goodyear, under the tentative plan, will provide $10 million.
Tucson snagged the expansion Colorado Rockies after the Indians left--but they've drawn fewer fans than the White Sox, with only 65,310 attendees last year. The Rockies opened in 1993 after Hi Corbett underwent $4.7 million in renovations, the first chunk of roughly $9 million in improvements that the Indians could not get. The first phase was paid with a special tax on car rentals that the Legislature authorized Pima and Maricopa counties to levy to enhance Cactus League facilities.
Through that wooing, the Rockies forced Tucson and Pima County to commit to luring at least two more teams, to cut down on Interstate 10 travel to Valley ballparks. When a group headed by Phoenix sports mogul Jerry Colangelo won the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, he was instrumental in bringing along the White Sox from his hometown.
It hasn't been cheap. The county jacked up the car rental tax to $3.50, imposed a 50-cent per night tax on RVs, and levied a 1 percent hotel bed tax to raise money to build the two-team facility that, with financing costs, put taxpayers on the hook for roughly $50 million.
The county was so eager to get teams that the leases tilt heavily in favor of the teams. Combined with insufficient income from the tourist-related taxes levied to pay for the complex has created a nearly $6 million deficit. It won't get easier; the county bond payment for the spring training complex increases this year by 52 percent to $3.8 million.
Huckelberry, who rarely ventures to the ballpark, has noted that baseball has been good to everyone but the county--i.e., the taxpayer. The Cactus League season contributes $110 million in direct spending from out-of-state visitors, according to figures prepared for the league and the state. The total economic impact is estimated to top $200 million.
The White Sox and Diamondbacks open spring training play on March 4, facing off at Tucson Electric Park.