Tucson baseball: Special exhibitions may be key to big-league future

2013-07-16T00:00:00Z Tucson baseball: Special exhibitions may be key to big-league futureDanny Passovoy Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson doesn't have spring training anymore, and after this season will likely be without a Triple-A team.

But there's hope for baseball fans: Look no further than San Antonio.

In 2013, Ryan-Sanders Baseball, founded by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, his son Reid, and Houston businessman Don Sanders, announced their plans for "Big League Weekend," a two-game exhibition series between the Texas Rangers and the San Diego Padres at the Alamodome.

The results blew their expectations out of the water.

Crowds of 34,631 and 40,569 poured into the Alamodome for its first ever baseball series.

The two-game series featured six home runs. A few of those probably wouldn't have cleared a true major-league fence, as the reconfigured Alamodome featured a short 285-foot porch in right field.

"It really was a home run for us," said Reese Ryan, CEO of Ryan-Sanders Baseball. "It's a hotbed for the Rangers, and we felt like the opportunity to bring Major League Baseball to San Antonio would be a win-win for the city and for the Rangers to help service some of those fans who don't necessarily have an opportunity to get up to Arlington to see their team play on a regular basis."

Reid Ryan agreed.

"San Antonio wanted to show their support to Major League Baseball, and they did just that. We welcomed 75,000 fans for two games, which is really, really strong."

While spring training won't return full-time to Kino Stadium anytime soon, Tucsonans can expect the usual influx of exhibition games in March.

Mike Holmes, a consultant for the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority, said the city will host at least two spring training exhibitions in 2014. It won't be long, he says, before Tucson hosts one game a week during spring training.

"We were able to bring two spring training exhibition games here this year, three last year," Holmes said. "When they come down, it's always in the mode of courting them to bring them back and showing them what kind of turnout we can do."

Las Vegas has likely had some of the most success hosting exhibition games, welcoming the Cubs for the past nine consecutive seasons to Cashman Field, the home of the New York Mets affiliate Las Vegas 51s. In their first eight series at Cashman the Cubs sold out 14 games. Las Vegas has also hosted the Dodgers, the Reds and the Rangers to sellout crowds over the past decade.

Other cities have seen great success hosting spring training as well.

Earlier this spring, the Colorado Rockies met the Seattle Mariners in Salt Lake City. More than 15,000 fans showed up.

Earlier this spring, Tucson entertained a more normal split-squad game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego. All-Star Patrick Corbin started against a Padres team that included mostly minor leaguers.

Whether Tucson has a full-time spring training or minor league team in the area, Major League Baseball will always have a vested interest in the Old Pueblo. Its history, climate and fan base will always make it an attractive place to play ball.

However, for a team to really consider signing a long term deal here, Tucson likely needs to build a more central and accessible baseball stadium that could host either two or three major league spring training teams and a minor league affiliate during the season and have attached fields for youth and amateur baseball.

The city must also invest in baseball. Consider: The Alamodome underwent a $2 million renovation just to accommodate the "Big League Weekend".

"It's not going to happen overnight," said Mike Feder, general manager of the Tucson Padres. "For a Triple-A team to move here, somebody has to want to move here."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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