Greg Hansen: On opening day, nostalgia for simpler time

2010-03-04T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: On opening day, nostalgia for simpler timeGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 04, 2010 12:00 am  • 

County workers at Tucson Electric Park long ago removed the White Sox "2005 World Champions" banner from its moorings. Just like the White Sox, the sign had been in place so briefly that the sun did not bleach out the adjacent surface.

You can't tell it was ever there.

The team's former spring training clubhouse sat vacant in 2009, but a few days ago someone climbed a ladder to erect a new sign: WELCOME NIPPON HAM FIGHTERS.

Alas, a delegation from the Japanese Central League team canceled plans to visit TEP for today's spring training opener, Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies. If they or anyone else wants to see spring training in Tucson, the clock is ticking. It stops March 31, perhaps forever.

Although today is opening day here for the D-backs and the Rockies, spring training ceased to be spring training in Tucson a long time ago. It stopped being about baseball and started being about money and maneuvering the day the Cleveland Indians ended their 46-year stay and bolted for Homestead, Fla., in 1993.

The D-backs and Rockies are leaving in 27 days because we don't have enough money and we didn't do enough maneuvering.

I find this neither sorrowful nor distressing, and it is nothing that the poets of the press box can put into melancholy words. It's nothing personal. It's business.

If you want a working example of how Tucson and Pima County failed to do business on a major-league level, drive to Hi Corbett Field today. You will be greeted by "road closed" barriers.

Forty-eight hours before the Rockies begin their final season at Hi Corbett, construction crews have torn up some of Camino Campestre, one of two main arteries leading to the ballpark.

Why build jogging paths and curbing - the Arroyo Chico Urban Greenway - during the busiest time of the year at Hi Corbett Field? Perhaps it is Tucson's way of telling the Rockies to stick it.

I find no reason to manufacture bitterness toward the Rockies and Diamondbacks. If we were naïve enough to think they were staging spring training here because it had become a grand tradition, 63 years of Cactus League history, we ignored all the warning signs.

After 19 years, the Giants left Casa Grande. After 25 years, the Padres exited Yuma.

You practically trip over yourself listing the Florida municipalities left heartbroken by opportunistic spring training tenants: After 47 years, Fort Lauderdale is now without a spring training boarder. The Dodgers bolted Vero Beach after 61 years. Plant City, Winter Haven and a quartet of beach cities - West Palm, Daytona, Pompano and Cocoa - all failed to generate the attendant revenue and amenities to remain in the Grapefruit League.

In spring training, the grass is always greener down the street.

Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall came off as a giddy schoolboy - "this will be the Disneyland of all spring training facilities," he said - when the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community agreed to build, fund and operate a $100 million complex for the D-backs and Rockies to share.

You thought they'd say no?

Nor did White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf object when the city of Glendale built a stunning, $121 million facility, Camelback Ranch, and invited the Sox and Dodgers to base their spring training operation. Cost to the club: just your name on the marquee.

The Red Sox, bless their carpetbagging souls, told Lee County officials in Fort Myers, Fla., they would bolt for a sweetheart deal in Sarasota, Fla., unless a new facility was promised. Thus, "Fenway South," an $80 million, one-tenant facility is due to be completed by 2012; more than $50 million will be taken from property tax reserves to suit the Red Sox and build them a better ballpark.

Try that in Pima County and you'd have to summon the National Guard to protect the politicians.

What I find disappointing from the D-backs and Rockies are the excuses.

Rockies President Keli McGregor said the club's new facility near Scottsdale will give them a better opportunity to teach 150 people seated together indoors.

That's baloney. There can't be two times during spring training that the entire organization, minor leaguers and big leaguers, gather to share vital instructional material. None of it is that important anyway. How many ways are there to slide into second base?

Ken Kendrick, D-backs managing general partner, says that by moving to Phoenix his club will gain an edge, be more "competitive," because it will face better players than in Tucson.

Mush. About half of the D-backs games are played in Phoenix anyway. Most games are played by utilitymen and guys headed to the Pacific Coast League. Spring training isn't about winning and being competitive. It's about getting in your cuts and making sure you don't tear a hammie.

The D-backs and Rockies are leaving Tucson for the same reason the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1958 and the Indians left Tucson in 1993. Follow the money. Some things never change.

On StarNet: Find an interactive guide to Tucson's ballparks azstarnet.com

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