For decades, the name "HoHoKam" and the Cubs have been synonymous with the team's spring training in Arizona. The ballpark on Center Street in Mesa, named after the local civic group, had been the Cubs' spring home through 2013.
With the Cubs' move into their own new spring-training stadium, it had been unclear whether the HoHoKams would continue to help run spring training for the Cubs. Monday, it was announced the team and the civic group had signed a new five-year deal:
"I feel pretty good," said Mike Whalen, leader of the 160-member civic group that brought the Cubs to Mesa for spring training in 1952. Whalen, a former Mesa city councilman, said his group and the Cubs have a memorandum of understanding that will lead to a five-year contract. "We’re going to be doing basically some of the things we did at Hohokam Stadium," Whalen said. Volunteers will park cars, take tickets, sell programs and serve as "ambassadors" for fans in the new 15,000-seat facility. Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the deal signals the team’s interest in supporting all the communities where it does business. "Mesa continues to be an extension of the Chicago Cubs’ fan base, and we appreciate everything the city has done for us over the years," said Green, who contacted The Arizona Republic with word of the deal late last week.
So if you're going to check out the Cubs' new spring ballpark and complex when it opens next year, you'll find a similar spring-training feel as you have for Cubs spring games at HoHoKam Park (both versions) since 1979. As the linked article points out:
The deal also will preserve a hometown feel for spring-training games, which in other cities have assumed more of a corporate air as big-league teams operate on their own terms without the help of groups like the HoHoKams.
There are still some other teams that use local civic groups to help run spring games -- the Giants in Scottsdale, the Angels in Tempe, the Rangers and Royals in Surprise -- and this helps create a much more laid-back, friendly atmosphere at spring games, which, in my view, is as it should be. Sports in general have become so expensive and have, as the article states, such a "corporate" feel to them, that being able to go to a spring-training game with this kind of atmosphere (and much lower ticket prices) is a refreshing throwback. (I suspect the article might be taking somewhat of a dig at the atmosphere at Camelback Ranch, where prices are quite high and the atmosphere is much less laid-back. That's just speculation on my part, though.)
I hope to have some photos from the construction of the new Cubs complex to post here in the next week or two. They're on schedule for a December completion and reportedly are about 70 percent finished with the work.