Patrick Finley: An empty feeling at Kino

Poor crowds continue as rental Padres near deal for El Paso move
2012-08-27T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:06:06Z Patrick Finley: An empty feeling at KinoPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 27, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Sometime soon, maybe within a month, an El Paso group will purchase the Tucson Padres from Jeff Moorad with plans of moving them out of town in a year or two.

Barring an unforeseen snag, MountainStar Sports Group seeks to put the Padres in a new $50 million stadium in downtown El Paso as soon as 2014.

El Paso has agreed to pay for the park; if voters don't approve raising the hotel tax in November, the city will find another funding mechanism.

The Pacific Coast League has given the group preliminary approval.

PCL president Branch Rickey declined to comment about the specifics of any deal, but told me "there's always a bittersweet sorrow to considering a possible relocation."

The rental Padres, then, appear to have an expiration date - and little else.

Do you realize that the Padres, who played their last home game of the season Sunday, drew FEWER fans than in 2011, when they had only a few months to introduce themselves to locals after arriving from Portland?

Or that they totaled just 200,991 fans, last in the league, and failed for the second straight year to turn a profit?

"I thought, when we brought Triple-A back, it would create some excitement," general manager Mike Feder said. "I'm not sure it necessarily has.

"I wish I had a better answer as to why people don't come."

Here's a list: The team is bad (it finished tied for last in 2011, and will finish dead last this year, in its division) and the weather sizzles and rains. Kino Stadium is a haul for many moneyed Tucsonans. The economy is horrible. History has proven Tucsonans root for the Block A, and little else. The Padres are temporary and treated warily.

Feder acknowledges all those problems, but doesn't accept them as deal-breakers.

This is a man who charts temperatures by inning to prove to fans that hot weather at first pitch turns into the high-80s by The Stretch.

Last season, during the team's first-ever batting practice at Kino, Feder spent 15 minutes telling me the stadium's location was not an impediment to fans.

He said it was a "myth" that fans wouldn't travel there for games.

Now, two seasons later, I sense he's not so sure anymore.

"I don't know that I get tired of it," he said, "but the most asked question of the last two years, in the community, is 'Why didn't they build it downtown?' "

Feder has flirted with Hi Corbett Field twice - both before the 2011 season (the Toros had a lease) and, quietly, this spring (Arizona Wildcats athletic director Greg Byrne said no).

So the Padres will play 2013 - and, maybe 2014 - at Kino.

It's too bad. With ample fields and huge locker rooms, Kino remains a great place to train a team and a lousy neighborhood for a night out.

There are no restaurants or bars nearby, unless you count In-N-Out Burger and the gas station that now sells Sonoran dogs.

You won't see that anywhere else in the PCL.

Most of the new parks are built as part of downtown redevelopment districts. Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas, was placed in the Austin suburbs and has watched businesses sprout up in the 12 years since it opened.

That's not happening here.

And that's the sad part about Padres attendance. If the plan was to provide butts-in-seats proof to any future franchise we were worthy of Triple-A moving here permanently, we failed.

"I'm not so sure that I'm the ultimate expert in so far as whether or not Tucson can be a successful Triple-A baseball market or not," Rickey said.

"I would conjecture with you that the stadium there was built for the purposes of hosting exhibition baseball, and the complex was built with the idea of it being developmental. It's a minor-league complex with the ability to also play spring training games.

"In our more recent years, in the markets where we see baseball go so well - PCL baseball - those situations are exclusively ones where the architecture of the stadium, the placement of the stadium, the ambition for the use of it, is to host Triple-A baseball for a full season."

In other words: not Kino.

Location notwithstanding, Rickey said common denominators for stadium success were "planning, infrastructure, support, commitment, enthusiasm for accomplishing a larger goal" than a stadium.

"Assiduous municipal intent," he said.

And when was the last time you saw that here?

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