What to do now that the Super Bowl is over and spring training still hasn't arrived? Here at MLB FanHouse, we Mind the Gap.
Spring training -- thank gawd -- starts this week in Florida and Arizona.
When pitchers and catchers, scheduled to report beginning Wednesday, arrive, there will be geographical balance for the first time ever -- 15 teams playing in Florida and 15 in Arizona. That's thanks to the Cincinnati Reds' move west this year. They will join their Ohio brethren from Cleveland in Goodyear, Ariz.
Baseball's rites of spring date back 100-plus years, and there has never been anything close to East-West balance until the last decade or so. But by luring a team or two at a time, Arizona sites have slowly been peeling organizations away from Florida.
Part of the Arizona lure is the weather. Warm spring climes can be found in both locales, but it is generally drier in the desert, allowing more days of work.
|Spring Training Tale of the Tape|
|As a beat writer for the Diamondbacks and Yankees, FanHouse's Ed Price has covered spring training in both Arizona and Florida. He breaks down the two sides:|
|Grapefruit League||Category||Cactus League|
|Florida (old people from East Coast)||State||Arizona (old people from the Midwest)|
|15||No. of Teams||15|
|Cool early on, always a chance of rain||Weather||Dry heat, without the heat|
|Good-sized fields, normal scoring||Game Conditions||Dry air + elevation = slugfests|
|Bright House Networks Field (Clearwater), Phillies: Always packed, beach atmosphere, tiki bar open after game||Place to See Game
||Scottsdale Stadium, Giants: Good crowds, place to be seen, grassy berm beyond outfield|
|Clearwater Beach: Bars on the sand, grouper sandwiches||Hot Spot||Scottsdale -- Hip restaurants and bars, art galleries, shopping|
|Port St. Lucie -- City motto is "Where Florida's Turnpike and I-95 cross!"||Not-So-Hot Spot||Tucson -- City name is Spanish for "college town where sidewalks roll up at 9 PM"|
|Not good. No more than three teams within any 40-mile radius||Travel||Convenient. Only two teams outside metro Phoenix area, and they're moving to the area in 2011|
Part of it is the convenience. Thirteen of the 15 teams are located in the Valley of the Sun, aka metropolitan Phoenix, meaning none of those teams has to drive more 55 miles to visit another. It's a 100-mile drive to Tucson, where the Rockies and the Diamondbacks set up camp, but both the Colorado and Arizona franchises will be relocated into the Phoenix sphere of influence by this time next year.
And, yes, part of it is money. Visitors to the Phoenix area pay hefty taxes on their hotel rooms and rental cars, and that money has been channeled to building new dual-team facilities on the not inconsiderable amount of open land on the fast-growing west side of the Valley.
The two-team sites call for the building of a main stadium and two separate but equal training sites. But the shared stadium means that for the month of games, the stadium can be filled every day, sometimes twice a day when the occasional night game is included.
The Mariners and Padres moved into the first joint stadium in Peoria, Ariz. in 1993 (Mariners) and 1994 (Padres), and since then there have been mimics -- the Royals and Rangers in Surprise, the Dodgers and the White Sox in Glendale and now the Indians and Reds in Goodyear. The Diamondbacks and White Sox split a Tucson facility for the last dozen years, but the Sox moved north this year and the Diamondbacks will follow suit in 2011.
It's true that Florida has made some small effort to imitate the Arizona plan. The Cardinals and the Marlins share Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., following the same model, but for the most part Florida simply hasn't been able to keep up.
The pace of the change seems inevitable now, but it wasn't that long ago when it seemed that the Cactus League couldn't keep up. In the late 1980s, the Indians announced they would be leaving Tucson's Hi Corbett Field -- the park used for some of the spring training scenes in the movie Major League -- for Homestead, Fla., after the spring of 1991, meaning 1992 would see a seven-team Cactus League.
At that point, the Cactus League was anything but centralized. The Giants played in Scottsdale Stadium, but trained a few miles away at Indian School Park. The A's played at Phoenix Municipal Stadium but trained at Scottsdale Community College. The Cubs were in Mesa, the Brewers in Chandler and the Mariners in Tempe. The Padres were a three-hour drive away in Yuma and the Angels were not even in the state, but in Palm Springs, Calif.
As if the Indians' exit news wasn't grim enough, the deep pockets of the Las Vegas tourism machine was looking to see if it could poach teams to make southern Nevada yet a third spring hub.
The writing was on the wall. The Cactus League was facing implosion. But Arizona politicians put together a tax plan that targeted that state's tourists to fund the building of stadiums that would not only keep the league intact but grow it as well.
The Cactus League never got down to seven teams because of a fluke of nature. Homestead and much of south Florida was devastated by Hurricane Andrew in September 1992, so the Indians had to stick it out one more year in Tucson. The next year saw the arrival of the Colorado Rockies via expansion, and they smoothly moved into Hi Corbett Field.
Since then, that tax has helped fund a complete rebuilding of Scottsdale Stadium and Phoenix Muni (and the building of the University of Phoenix Stadium for football, too) in addition to building the complexes in Surprise, Glendale and Goodyear and the addition of a new minor-league facility for the A's about a mile from Phoenix Muni. The new facility for the Diamondbacks and Rockies will be in North Scottsdale, but at that, the Cactus League may have reached its limits.
|Spring training has been firmly ensconced in one of two places -- Florida or Arizona -- for decades. But it wasn't always so. Here are some of the places to have hosted spring training before:|
| • Atlanta (Yankees,1903-04 and Senators, 1911)
• Biloxi, Miss. (Senators, 1930-35 and Phillies, 1938)
• Catalina Island, Calif. (Cubs, 1922-51)
• Charlotte, N.C. (A's, 1902)
• Ciudad Trujillo, D.R. (Dodgers, 1948)
• Hamilton, Bermuda (Yankees, 1913)
• Hampton, Va., (Senators, 1905)
• Havana, Cuba (Dodgers, 1941-42; 1947 and Pirates, 1953)
• Hot Springs, Ark. (Pirates, 1901-14; 1920-23, Phillies, 1912 and Red Sox, 1912-18)
• Little Rock, Ark. (Cardinals, 1909-10)
• Los Angeles (Giants, 1907)
• Mexico City (White Sox, 1907 and A's, 1937)
• Miami (Braves, 1916-18)
• New Orleans (Yankees, 1922-23)
• Palo Alto, Calif. (Tigers, 1932)
• Pasadena, Calif. (White Sox, 1933-42; 1946-50)
• Redondo Beach, Calif. (Red Sox, 1908)
• Sacramento (Tigers, 1931)
• San Francisco (White Sox, 1909-10)
• Santa Monica, Calif. (Cubs, 1905)
• Savannah, Ga. (Yankees, 1902 and Phillies, 1904; 1906-08)
• During World War II, teams were ordered to hold workouts east of the Mississippi River and north of the Potomac River to keep travel to a minimum. Among the cities involved were Asbury Park, N.J., Atlantic City, N.J., Bear Mountain, N.Y., Bloomington, Ind., Cairo, Ill., Cape Girardeau, Mo., College Park, Md., Evansville, Ind., French Lick, Ind., Hershey, Pa., Lafayette, Ind., Lakewood, N.J., Medford, Mass., Muncie, Ind., Wallingford, Conn. and Wilmington, Del.
One option is a Cubs move to Florida -- new ownership has talked with a Naples, Fla. group interested in luring the Cubs to the state with what has been described as the building of a miniature version of Wrigley Field on a 120-acre site in Collier County, Fla.
The Cubs' contract in Mesa runs through 2016, but there is an escape clause that would allow the team to leave after the 2012 season.
Moving to Florida would be against the recent trends -- Naples is 40 miles from the next-closest teams in Fort Myers (the Twins and the Red Sox) -- and no papers have been signed, so it's far from a done deal.
Arizona may yet hold parity at 15 teams each. Even if the plans to rebuild in Mesa don't come through, the Cubs have talked with representatives of the Gila River Indian Community, which has major income from the three casinos the community owns or operates in the area and land available just a few miles from the Phoenix city limits.
Will Florida finally be able to poach back at Arizona? It figures to be a fight.
But, then, it always has been.