Ballpark Figures

Why Baseball Is Driving Us Batty.
By Dave Devine

WITH CONSTRUCTION of our new ballpark underway and the Colorado Rockies already working out at Hi Corbett Field, it's time to remind ourselves of the ABC's of baseball in Tucson.

A is for amusing comments about the game.

There are still those--like The Arizona Daily Star's Greg Hansen and former major leaguer Pat Darcy--who continue to whine about the location of the new stadium for the White Sox and Diamondbacks. The ballpark could have been the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization effort, they claim, arguing that new stadiums have brought a new spark to Cleveland, Baltimore, Denver and Phoenix.

Of course, a major-league season spans six months and has 81 home dates, while spring training involves 16 home games in the month of March. Many big-league teams attract around 3 million fans, while spring training is lucky to have a total of 100,000 attend. Even when you throw in 250,000 or so fans for the Tucson Toros, there's no way a downtown stadium would have attracted businesses to the area.

B is for bad business decisions.

The Tucson City Council was convinced by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to assume more than $4 million in debt payments for improvements made to Hi Corbett several years ago. Pima County officials complained they couldn't spare the extra funds and still build a new $25 million stadium. Once the Council voted to assume the debt--surprise!--Pima County found an extra $10 million more it needed to finance the new facility.

The city also spent a few million dollars recently making additional improvements to Hi Corbett. But their efforts left out the Triple-A Tucson Toros, who are now seeking to move into the new stadium.

According to Jim Ronstadt, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, the Toros wanted the city to consider installing a restaurant and sky boxes at Hi Corbett. These ideas went nowhere.

The Toros' agreement with the city to use Hi Corbett ends after this year. Ronstadt said he doesn't know of any negotiations to try to keep the team at the historic ballpark; so come 1998, the Toros will probably be located down on Ajo Way in the new stadium, too. That move will save the city some operation and maintenance money, but won't be advantageous for the fans.

So did the City Council get tricked by Pima County? Councilmember Jose Ibarra doesn't think so. He says the county officials he knows don't deal that way.

Ibarra adds, however, that if the Toros leave the stadium, and it's only used for spring-training games, the city won't have made a good investment. He wants to try to keep the Toros, or failing that, use the facility for concerts and other money-generating events--a move that's sure to raise protest from the people living near Hi Corbett.

The Chicago White Sox, who will open play at the new stadium next year, haven't been immune from the bad-business blues either. When they decided to leave Sarasota, Florida, to come to Tucson, they walked away from a 20-year lease after only nine years.

A clause in their Florida agreement requires the Sox to find a team to replace them in Sarasota. If they can't do that, the team will have to pay the debt service on the stadium improvements made in 1989.

Peter Schneider, of the Sarasota city manager's office, says the team hasn't yet contacted the city about a replacement. If the White Sox don't find one, they will have to pay between $700,000 and $900,000 annually through 2008.

This may be tip money for a team that recently gave Albert Belle quadzillions of dollars to play ball for them. But you don't think they'd ask the Pima County government to help with this expense, if it comes to that, do you?

C is for cash taken from Pima County taxpayers.

The cost of the new stadium was suppose to be covered by the county through the car rental tax and other baseball-generated revenues. The Supes promised local taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for the project.

Then, when the $10-million shortfall appeared, the Supervisors approved a new tax on RV spaces to cover the deficit. Will that be enough? Supervisor Sharon Bronson says it's likely the county's general fund will have to be raided to help pay for the new stadium if city government doesn't fulfill its promises. City officials committed to pick up the cost of improving four practice fields at Hi Corbett, which the county initially paid for several years ago. But now the city may want to back out of the deal.

Then there's the price of tickets to games at Hi Corbett, which range from $12 to $4, with most seats costing $8 to $10. In a poor town like Tucson, you'll be able to tell the locals at the ballpark. They'll be the ones sitting in the cheap seats or selling the sodas in the stands.

But fortunately, the spring training teams will play a few charity games to raise some needed revenue. Perhaps the selected cause should be us saps, the taxpayers of Pima County.

After all of these lessons, D is for dumb.

By now, the politicians of Pima County might have learned that when it comes to the business of spring training baseball, they should have stayed away from it. In the long run, it's a swing and a miss. TW

Image Map - Alternate Text is at bottom of Page

Political Links
The Hall of Heads
Search the Currents Section

 Page Back  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Cinema | Back Page | Forums | Search

Weekly Wire    © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth