Hi Corbett feels more like the way spring training once was, when a team's objective was to get overweight players back in shape after a winter peddling insurance rather than to sell $30 "premium date" tickets, $8.50 beers and $40 souvenir shirts to wealthy fans vacationing from Chicago. Don't get me wrong — spring training still is a wonderful time, and every fan should enjoy its many pleasures at least once (every date is a "premium date" when you're layering on sunscreen while watching a Cactus or Grapefruit League game instead of shoveling snow). But as teams gouge taxpayers to build ever more lavish new "complexes," spring training not only becomes a little more big league; it becomes a little less personable and a little less accessible.
Hi Corbett, however, is as old-school as a flannel uniform. Set amid Tucson's Gene C. Reid Park, the stadium is surrounded by a golf course (the Braves really should have trained here), a zoo (the only one in baseball outside of the bleachers at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park), picnic areas, walking paths, ponds and very public spaces. On a recent Sunday, you could see the Rockies warming up on one field, a dozen or so people performing Tai Chi beneath a small grove of trees a few yards away and a father and son playing catch just behind them.
It was so wonderfully pastoral that Georges Seurat should have painted the scene — "Sunday in the Park with Jorge De La Rosa."
"You don't feel like it's a moneymaking venture here," said former pitcher Roy Smith, who trained at Hi Corbett in the 1980s with Cleveland. "The guys are getting ready. You're close [to players]. It's more like a park over there instead of a complex. The fans can get close. That's why I always liked it. It was like that at Vero Beach [Fla.]. It has some of the aspects of the Vero Beach when the Dodgers were there."
Spring training changed a lot when the Indians left Tucson and MLB started to milk it for every buck. Maybe a crazy new Japanese league is just what we need to bring back some of the magic we've lost.
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