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Spring Training Is Big Business: Cubs vs. Japan at Mesa, Thursday 3/12, 3:05 CT

Some thoughts on new spring training complexes, and a preview of the Cubs/Japan game on Thursday, March 12, 2009.

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This game alone isn't big business, but it ought to draw a near-capacity crowd if for no other reasons than:

  • The popular Ichiro Suzuki will be playing for Japan
  • Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome will be playing against his major league teammates, facing Carlos Zambrano

The other reason this post has this title are three articles that recently appeared on, the online home of the Arizona Republic newspaper, discussing the two new spring training complexes that opened this year, Camelback Ranch (home to both the Dodgers and White Sox) and Goodyear Ballpark (home to the Indians, returning to Arizona for spring training after 16 years in Florida).

This more general article about amenities and high-priced tickets in the new spring parks contains this stunning note about the stratospherically-priced seats at Camelback Ranch:

For $9O to $1OO, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox fans get complimentary in-seat food service, water and sunscreen, souvenirs such as an Ozzie Guillen bobblehead and, get this, mango-scented towels to keep their paws clean. As baseball purists and the budget-conscious were abuzz over the "Home Plate Club," others were busy reserving seats. Stadium officials report that 161 of the 2O2 seats were booked for last Thursday's Dodgers-White Sox game.

So much for the economy affecting high-priced items. Here's another article about Camelback Ranch, in which some fans lament the closeness and laid-back atmosphere that used to be prevalent at spring training camps (particularly, for Dodger fans at Dodgertown in Florida), disappearing:

"It seemed like Vero Beach was a little more personable," said Dale Dagley, who has been a Dodger fan for life despite living in Bloomington, Ill.

"This is a great facility, but Vero Beach was a fantastic place. There was a lot more player-fan contact there. But I think this is good for the Dodgers. They're closer to their home base, so they're going to get a lot more support here."

Some of the same comments were made by Indians fans about Goodyear Ballpark:

"It's like Fort Knox," said Jennifer Cuenot of Brooklyn.

"They've distanced the players physically from the fans," said her father, Randy Cuenot, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. "Newer isn't better. You can't get near anyone. There's security everywhere."

Bill Russell - a 2O-year Indians season ticket holder, not the former Dodgers shortstop - agreed.

He has been attending Indians spring training since the team's days in Tucson.

Before moving to the Valley this spring, the Indians were headquartered in Winter Haven, Fla., since 1993.

"I'm actually insulted here," said Russell, who is the father of 6-foot-8 White Sox pitcher Adam Russell.

"I could care less about autographs, but when you come to spring training you want to be able to get close enough to see who's taking batting practice or stand behind a fence and catch home run balls.
For their part, Indians management is aware of these comments and may make changes:
Bart Swain, a spokesman for the Indians, said the team is aware some fans that had experienced Winter Haven's relaxed atmosphere are unhappy.

"It's Year 1," he said. "Like anything, we'll try to adjust some things as we move along. Most of the complaints have been about the complex, not the stadium."

What this has to do with the Cubs is that HoHoKam Park is 12 years old -- that doesn't seem really old in terms of ballparks, but in spring training terms, that's nearly ancient. HoHoKam is a good facility, but the Cubs would probably like to have their minor leaguers closer -- Fitch Park is only half a mile down the road, but in most of the newer complexes, players and management can walk between the fields -- and that might be a subject of negotiation between the Cubs and Mesa when the Cubs' opt-out provision kicks in after 2012 (when, presumably, the economy will have improved). I expect the Cubs and Mesa will continue their now 30-year-old agreement, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cubs insist on an either new or upgraded complex.

Now, on to today's game, which once again will have no radio, audio or TV coverage -- you'd think this one would have been a natural for the MLB Network. So, we are all going to be following on Gameday again. I'd expect Zambrano to go at least four innings, possibly even five, depending on his pitch count. No pitchers have yet been announced for Japan; it'd be pretty cool to see Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka throw, but I'm guessing both of those guys are being held for games 1 and 2 of the second round.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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