This is the 20th anniversary of the decision not to build a downtown sports complex in Tucson, specifically a baseball stadium for spring training and a Pacific Coast League franchise.
I thought of that Friday evening as I walked through tailgating parties at the Kino Sports Complex, near the North Stadium, where 1,853 would watch FC Tucson, a semi-pro soccer team, beat Vancouver in a rousing 1-0 playoff game.
The soccer people, specifically FC Tucson’s management group — Greg Foster, Chris Keeney, Jon Pearlman and Rick Schantz — have made the best of a bad situation.
Friday’s game was a celebration for all those men have done to pump life into Tucson’s near-lifeless (non-UA) sports torso. They have a vision and a get-it-done drive that politicians of 20 years ago lacked.
I bring this to your attention because on Friday night in Texas, the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas drew 8,777 fans, a sellout, to play the PCL’s Fresno Grizzlies. It was the 34th sellout El Paso has drawn in 47 games at their new downtown facility, Southwest University Park.
El Paso replaced Tucson in the Pacific Coast League and, in minor-league baseball, has become the place to be. I’d laugh but it isn’t funny.
The Chihuahuas have already drawn 394,090 fans and still have 19 games remaining. The Tucson Sidewinders/Padres never drew more than 300,460 in an entire season at Kino Stadium.
The El Paso Times last week reported that commercial activity adjacent to the ballpark is thriving. Richard Venezuela, co-owner of the new Sparrows Spirits and Pies, across the street from the stadium, told the newspaper: “There are more people down here. You start feeling the beginning of downtowns in bigger cities. People are walking around. It feels good to be a part of it.”
Twenty years after choosing to build a baseball facility on Ajo Way, Tucson debuted a downtown streetcar. For $4, you can ride it all day and most of the night.
Its route goes next to the vacant land where a ballpark should have been built.
Now we’ve got soccer and a street car. El Paso 1, Tucson 0.