In a testament to just how hard it is to pluck any more teams from Florida’s Grapefruit League, the Chicago White Sox apparently have pulled out Plan B.
The White Sox, who are itching to join the Los Angeles Dodgers in Glendale’s new baseball complex in 2009, need to satisfy Pima County if they want to get out of their spring training contract before it expires in 2012.
The contract is clear: Find a replacement team to take their spot at Tucson Electric Park.
Months have passed without any apparent luck.
Recently, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf met with Pima County officials and floated three alternatives. One that piqued their interest was a year-round, nationally sanctioned youth baseball tournament.
If Pima County accepted such an alternative, it would be good news for Glendale, which is constructing an $80 million spring training ballpark for the White Sox and Dodgers near Camelback Road and 107th Avenue.
Glendale’s contract stipulates the teams must play 20 spring training games annually at the park.
The White Sox do not have the option of splitting their ball club between Tucson and Glendale, although they could play some of their away games in Glendale if necessary, said John Kaites, a White Sox representative.
The Dodgers have also said they would try to pick up some of the slack if the White Sox can’t get out of their contract by next year.
But Tucson-area leaders have bitten at the Sox latest proposal, according to Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez.
He wants to hear more about the youth baseball tournament, which could attract visitors from around the country year-round.
The Sox are putting together a written proposal, he said, that more fully explores the idea and compares its economic impact with that of spring training, which brings an estimated $30 million into Tucson.
Accepting a youth tournament instead of a replacement team would carry some risk for the Tucson area.
Three teams train there now: the White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies could get out of their contract if fewer than three teams train in the area.
Valadez said one should not presume that Pima County’s willingness to hear more about youth baseball is a signal that Tucson is resigned to losing spring training. He grew up watching the Cleveland Indians, who were among the first teams to begin training in Arizona in 1947.
“We are not ready to forfeit spring training,” Valadez said. “It’s part of the culture and tradition. It’s part of who we are as a community.”
The county has taken the first steps to form a sports and tourism authority, which would use a still unidentified tax stream to support youth sports and spring training.
Maricopa County already has such an authority, which has helped lure teams to the Cactus League with new or updated facilities that are largely funded by a tax on rental cars and hotels.
Two teams mentioned this week by a Pima County official as possibilities for the area are the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros. Both train in Florida but have leases expiring in the near future.