Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Bush League in Tucson
[Tucson Electric Park at the end of spring training. Photo by Chris Sharkey]
After 63 years, major league baseball spring training comes to an end today in Tucson, Arizona. Its death was caused by the greed of Major League Baseball, the corporate giant, and by the gullibility of local officials who think that building expensive stadiums for the benefit of sports teams is a prudent use of taxpayer money.
The next-to-last game was played yesterday between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers at the $38 million Tucson Electric Park, built by Pima County at taxpayer expense and opened in 1998 as the spring-training home for the brand-new Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox. Both teams signed 15-year contracts to play at the new ballpark.
The White Sox blew town at the end of spring training last year. The Diamondbacks skulked out of the stadium yesterday at the end of the final game, which they lost 4-2 to the Rangers.
The last spring training game in Tucson will be played today, between the Colorado Rockies and the Diamondbacks, at Rockies' spring home, the venerable 1937 Hi Corbett Field, a little gem of a stadium that was originally the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians, who played there from 1947 through 1992, after which the Rockies moved in.
At the end of the game today at Hi Corbett (a report will follow), both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks will be gone. Next spring, the teams will play at a new $100 million stadium and training facility (built by taxpayer money, natch) near Scottsdale in the Phoenix suburbs -- 110 miles up the Interstate from Tucson.
Ha-ha, loyal Tucson has been told: No baseball for you!
The issue here is not so much the Rockies' departure from good old Hi Corbett Field, though that's a crying shame. The issue is the cheesy way the Diamondbacks are leaving town, having enjoyed taxpayer largess at Tucson Electric Park, which many consider to be the finest spring-training stadium in major league baseball.
Yesterday's final game at TEP, as it is known, was played under glorious sunny skies with the temperature in the 80s. Conspicuously lacking was any overt acknowledgment by the local apparatchiks that the team they had built the new stadium for was leaving the premises for good after the 9th inning, leaving county taxpayers with $22.7 million to pay off in debt from the stadium.
Shhh, the apparatchiks seemed to believe. Don't let's embarrass the Major League Baseball panjandrums down there counting the money under the stands before they skip out on the rent.
Instead, the loudspeaker boomed: "The Pima County Board of Supervisors welcomes you to today's game!" and then the announcer gamely described some other local attractions to be seen by visitors, including the abandoned Titan II nuclear missile site, now a museum, 20 miles down the Interstate.
In the local paper, one county supervisor, Ramon Valadez, was quoted as saying that the Diamondbacks' leaving before the contract expired was "an abuse of the public."
But at the ballpark, the only real acknowledgment came from a well-known stadium beer vendor who calls himself Scooter the Beerguy. At the end of the 7th inning, Scooter the Beerguy set down his box at the foot of the stands near the dugout on the first-base side and wailed to the fans: "We've had 13 great years here, and they can't take that from us!" He took a big bow in a rousing ovation.
Uh, I have some news for you Scooter. They can take it away and they did.
[Scooter, by the way, declines to give his real name. Instead, he hands you his business card, which lists his Web site.]
The only other real acknowledgment that the deal had gone sour and the end was imminent came from the stadium organist. Between innings in the 9th, a bouncy rendition of "Camelot" in a 2-4 beat issued from the loudspeakers.
When the game ended, I expected at least some overt acknowledgment from the Diamondbacks team itself that it was leaving town. Maybe the team would take to the field for a final wave. You know, say goodbye and many thanks to the fans who built the ballpark for them.
Nope. The Texas Rangers team took to the field, its management apparently aware that a certain moment had occurred and a certain respect might be due to the fans. The Texas Rangers have some manners.
Behaving like the bush-leaguers that they are, the Arizona Diamondbacks turned their backs and disappeared into the dugout, then into the bowels of the stadium where the money is counted. They were a no-class outfit to the end.