Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

So long MLB, don’t let the door hit you in the @$$ on your way out of Tucson

Goodbye Major League Baseball. In a week or so the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks will begin wrapping up their spring training stints here, bringing to an end  a 63-year tradition of big league baseball in Tucson as the two teams will train in Phoenix next year.

We’re sad to see you go but we understand, money talks and (what comes out of the south end of a northbound bull) walks.

Don’t expect any tears. We’re sad about the end of tradition and the loss of revenue, but not about the maltreatment the past few years as you tried to extort from us glitzy new stadiums that your billionaire owners didn’t want to pay for themselves.

In fact, you may have done us a huge favor. Now, rather than argue about whether to tax ourselves so that we can fight stadium wars with Phoenix, we’ve been given a couple of huge blank slates, fields actually, upon which we can create new traditions and revenues.

The county Board of Supervisors resurrected the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority in 2008 in a last-ditch effort to save spring training. But now that the effort has failed, the authority has the opportunity to market the huge Kino Sports Complex and the smaller Hi Corbett Field to youth leagues.

Youth sports tournaments are a billion-dollar industry. Just one week-long tournament already here, the Fort Lowell Soccer Shootout, generates about $3 million every January for the local economy. That’s about 10 percent of the $30 million MLB spring training generated in two months each year.

That tournament is named after the park where it started but it quickly outgrew Fort Lowell Park and is now held all over town, causing headaches for teams and parents as they shuttle across the city looking for their assigned fields each day.

Kino and Corbett could host the whole thing and be a marketing boon to an already huge tournament.

Just a handful of soccer, baseball, softball and football youth tournaments each year could equal or surpass the economic impact of spring training.

One of the handicaps of having spring training was the restriction the leagues put on using “their” fields during the 10 months they weren’t in town. The billionaire owners didn’t want their millionaire athletes tearing an Achilles tendon on a heavily used field. That’s over. We can use OUR fields as we see fit.

Of course, the city and the county will need to cooperate in this effort since the city owns Hi Corbett and the county Kino. Each facility will need some updating and improvements to turn them into multiuse facilities.

And the Sports Authority needs to drop the silly deal it’s negotiating with Japanese pro baseball in a last gasp effort to keep some tenuous grip on MLB spring training in Tucson.

And voters will need to give the authority a couple of bucks through a tax district that the Legislature will need to create, so that the money is there to develop the facilities and market them.

But those obstacles are easily overcome assuming our regional leaders are wise enough to recognize the opportunity they’ve been given.

The MLB’s departure may turn out to be the best thing pro baseball has ever done for Tucson.

So long fellas, it was fun while it lasted. Don’t let the door hit you in the (south end of a northbound baseball player) on the way out of Tucson.

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