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Tucson groups want to entice pro leagues
SPRING TRAINING: BASEBALL, SOCCER OR BOTH?

Tucson groups want to entice pro leagues

  • Updated

After touring Southern Arizona's vacant spring training baseball facilities last week, Major League Soccer executive Nelson Rodriguez told his FC Tucson tour guides he loved the area's resorts, people and locker rooms.

"But," said FC Tucson co-owner Greg Foster, "he didn't see a soccer field."

Bringing an MLS training camp to Tucson as early as next February requires creating soccer fields at Hi Corbett Field or Kino Sports Complex by converting baseball diamonds.

On Tuesday, Tom Tracy, chairman of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority, told the Board of Supervisors dual use of the fields is problematic because they would have to be re-engineered to accommodate drainage and grass requirements for professional soccer that don't work for baseball.

Still, baseball and soccer executives, including Tracy, said this week that field availability and renovation would not pit the two sports against each other.

"Whether it's Kino that's repurposed or Hi Corbett that's repurposed or a to-be-built facility, the concept of MLS doing spring training and conditioning here is a spectacular idea," Tracy said.

But the bottom line, he said, is, "We have the same problem with that concept that we do with baseball - there's no money."

Foster, who met with Kino Sports Complex officials July 8, said it was "premature" to discuss the cost of field renovation, or who would pay for it.

City Councilman Paul Cunningham said he does not want to use taxpayer money, adding that private funding "can get it done."

Pima County could finance overhauling the fields at Kino for soccer, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said, and he is quite willing. But first the county will have to see that the economic impact exceeds the investment.

"That's the restaurants and hotels and everyone else," he said.

Tracy said this week that the organization has spoken with five Major League Baseball teams, two in-depth, about moving spring training to Tucson, though no earlier than 2015.

By then, Tracy hopes, the authority will have money - $15 million a year - via a ballot proposal the Legislature approved to be put up for vote in 2013.

Tracy's group is not actively involved in the MLS recruitment, though Tracy said they are a "cheerleader" for the idea.

If FC Tucson can find money to entice MLS, Tracy said, "Let's do it tomorrow."

Tracy said sharing between soccer and baseball was far more likely at Kino Stadium than Hi Corbett because Kino has more fields and space.

FC Tucson has not reached a deal with either facility.

FC Tucson's plan, Foster said, is to book "high-quality training fields" from Feb. 1 to March 15, 2012, and to rotate four MLS teams.

Then, over five dates between March 1 and March 15, four teams would participate in the Desert Cup series in a stadium. At least two MLS teams would be housed in Tucson.

"We're in the early part of the growth curve of an event MLS wants to create," Foster said.

FC Tucson will bid on the 2013 MLS combine, a late January event at which scouts examine draft prospects.

"Then we'd be talking about seven weeks of MLS in Tucson, from January to March," Foster said.

Area complexes could get crowded.

The Arizona Wildcats want to play baseball at Hi Corbett Field next year. The Tucson Toros' lease there is being revoked by the city.

The Triple-A Tucson Padres play at Kino Stadium, where general manager Mike Feder said he was willing to "bend over backwards to help out."

Huckelberry said the county became involved in MLB spring training to stimulate economic development and tourism.

The arrival of MLS could fill the economic gap created when the Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks left town in 2009 and 2010.

Still, Huckelberry said, it would be ideal to have both.

"We have some pretty smart folks around here," he said. "I think if they just kind of work together, we could solve that problem."


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