Pedersen On Sports

This will be the Tucson Padres' last season in Tucson, but not for a lack of effort

>Among the many things Greg Byrne will be remembered for when he completes his tenure as athletic director at the University of Arizona, moving the baseball team to Hi Corbett Field will be near the top of the list.

The off-campus locale provides a welcome and engaging environment for baseball lovers, who get to combine their passion for cheering on the Wildcats with consuming beer in a facility that makes the experience feel like a major league game.

The move from Sancet Field has been a key to the renewed interest in college baseball around here, but it will also go down as the largest of many nails in the Tucson Padres' coffin. Not only that, it will serve as a front-and-center reason for why professional baseball will probably never return to Southern Arizona.

Face it, Tucson is a college town. Always has been, always will be. It's probably the biggest college town in the world. And with the Padres set to move to El Paso next season, we'll also be among the largest metropolitan areas in the country without a big league or even Triple-A baseball team.


Remember, we've been through this before. The Tucson Sidewinders skipped out of here after the 2008 season, moving to Reno, Nev., where a fancy new downtown stadium was a sign that the community wanted them there.

But the UA isn't entirely to blame for the death of the Padres. They were already mostly dead before arriving three years ago from Portland, Ore., a sort of sports snowbird that never had much of a chance of sinking roots in a community that's still hurting from the loss of spring training.

In a stroke of luck for Tucson, the Portland franchise needed to move because that community decided soccer was the best pro sport to throw money at, and the Beavers' stadium was converted to a soccer complex. So Tucson got minor league baseball again, although Kino Stadium was meant to be only a temporary home, until a new stadium (yup, downtown) was built for the team in Escondido, Calif.

The Escondido plans fell through, thanks to the poor financial management of California's politicians—good job, Arnold. As a result, we got to hold onto the Padres a little longer. Some thought this might even mean they would stay permanently, Tucson having shown that, with little notice, it could still host minor league baseball.

Host? Yes. Support? As Consuela, the maid on Family Guy, would say: Ehhhhhhhh ... nooooooo. No, no. No.

"My hope was we could make it work, but that didn't happen," said Mike Feder, the T-Pads' general manager and a staple of Tucson pro baseball for most of the last 25 years. "'Make it work' meant drawing enough people to convince an owner this was the right place."

While Reno was drawing more than 6,000 fans per game in 2011, the T-Pads drew a scant 3,410 per contest, by far the worst in the Pacific Coast League. Last season was even worse, with Tucson pulling in a little more than 200,000 fans over 68 games. The average of 2,956 was roughly two-thirds of what Las Vegas drew last year, and we all know where minor league baseball ranks on the list of things to do in Sin City.

It's not like the Padres weren't trying to draw fans, and won't continue to do so in what is likely their final season in Tucson. While local management has no control over which players the big league club chooses to put on the field, the marketing and promotions people—most of whom have deep roots in this community—are busting their butts to get people to come to Kino, difficult as that has proved to be.

There are food and drink promotions (shameless plug: the Weekly is a sponsor of Thirsty Thursdays, which returns to $1 beers and sodas after going to $1.50 in 2012), seven postgame fireworks shows and plenty of giveaways lined up for what Feder expects will be a "fun" season.

Feder said he recently got the blessing of former owner Jay Zucker to use the old Toros name at points during the season, meaning we're apt to see some of the interesting (read: hideous, with diagonal multi-colored stripes) jerseys that past incarnations of the Tucson Triple-A franchise have worn.

There's even going to be a Disco Night, people. What more do you want?

"We're going to have a lot of fun. We're not going to limp to the finish line," Feder said.

Truth be told, there's not much Feder and his gang can do in a town full of "If it's not the UA, I don't care" acolytes. It's why the Icecats and their D-minus level of hockey brought droves of fans to the Tucson Convention Center, while the professional Tucson Gila Monsters were lucky to get 800 people to come out.

Even worse, there's still a lot of lingering discontent because spring training bailed on us. It's why there wasn't much of an outcry when Zucker sold the Sidewinders to the Reno people, and why the locals haven't made much of an effort to embrace the T-Pads.

But maybe the biggest hurdle for pro baseball here is Kino Stadium. The facility itself is fine—it's the reason Tucson landed the Portland team. But the ridiculously false notion that it's in a "bad" location has been a sticking point since the stadium, then known as Tucson Electric Park, opened in 1998.

None of this would have been an issue had the powers that be taken the necessary steps to get a stadium built ... hmm, I don't know, maybe DOWNTOWN. Instead, we got a fancy new federal court.

Meanwhile, this weekend in El Paso they'll be demolishing what used to be City Hall to make way for a $50 million—you guessed it, downtown—stadium that has the backing not only of the local government and the fans but also of the heavy hitters in the community.

"I think AAA baseball will be highly successful in El Paso because it's the only thing going on," Feder said. "That's not the case here."

Correction, April 11, 2013: This article originally misidentified Tucson as soon to be the largest metropolitan area without professional baseball -- it would be third-largest, behind Orlando and Portland.
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