Andrus Center, Baseball

Savor the Spring

“Spring training means flowers, people coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism and baseball. Spring training is a time to think about being young again.” – Ernie Banks

The fellow with the unique hat – it was a Cubs game so there were more than a few crazy hats – was selling suds and peanuts last Saturday in the sunshine in the desert. The Cubs won, but that was hardly the point. God was in her heaven, again, and baseball is back. It’s time to think about being young again.

They’ll play the last of the pre-season games this week in Arizona and Florida, the last quiet days of a long, long season that will likely feature drama in the Bronx and at Fenway and perhaps something approaching jubilation in Washington, D.C. where baseball success has been as historically hard to come by as bi-partisan agreement. The loaded up Angels of Los Angeles by way of Anaheim have had a dismal spring, but expect them to be there in the fall. The Royals and Orioles have blistered their respective leagues and are fun to watch, but spring training does not a season make. My beloved Giants could be contenders again, but it’s hard in this game to win year-after-year, just ask Brian Cashman.

In the screwy economics of baseball you now pay $32 for a Cubs spring training game in Mesa to watch a bunch of guys even die hard fans have never heard of. Beware the “split squad” – SS on the schedule – where the boys destined for Salt Lake City and Iowa show up wearing number 69. The ballplayers may be minor league, but the fans are the real deal and so are the beer vendors. Next year the Cubs will have a spanking new spring training complex a couple of miles from cozy Hohokam Field. When the Cubs ownership cleared their throws a while back and mumbled “Florida” the City of Mesa decided to pay any price to keep spring training and the Northsiders in town where they have trained in the spring for 35 years.

Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s will abandon quaint and small Phoenix Municipal Stadium in 2015 to relocate to the ballpark the Cubs are leaving after this year. The City of Mesa – these folks love baseball and long-term economic development – will finance up to $17.5 million in upgrades to Hohokam Field. If you don’t think baseball, even at this level, is good for a community just ask Tucson which lost all of its spring training tenants a while back. Where once 10,000 baseball fans filled a Tucson stadium the city has tried to make up for its hardball drought with soccer. I love soccer, but it’s not quite the same.

Spring training has gone from a nice, rather low key annual ritual to very big business. The Phoenix area now markets the Cactus League as among its very biggest attractions. A two-year old study of the economics of Cactus League baseball pegged the impact at least $350 million annually. That Saturday game in Mesa drew an announced crowd of more than 13,000 and considering how hard that beer guy was working most of them had at least one Old Style. It was a warm day.

The Milwaukee Brewers train in these parts, as well, and the Brew Crew just parted with $33 million over three years for a 34-year-old pitcher with a career record of 118-109 with a 4.45 ERA in a dozen seasons with four clubs. Nice work if you can get it.

As Yogi allegedly once said, “Baseball is the champ of them all. Like somebody said, the pay is good and the hours are short.” And this time of year you really can think of being young again. The “real” season will begin soon enough. For the next few days we can work on our tan – with sunscreen, of course – and wonder who the heck that guy is wearing #74. Savor the spring.

“The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the spring is to get a tan.” – Whitey Ford