The Chicago White Sox, itching to leave Tucson, have devised an exit strategy that purportedly will allow them to bolt and still leave our city with a robust baseball presence.
Think of it as a variation of “If you build it, they will come.”
According to a report commissioned by the White Sox and written by a Scottsdale consulting firm, creating a youth baseball facility at Tucson Electric Park, where they and the Arizona Diamondbacks play, could bring as much as $46 million into the local economy. Those fields of dreams would host amateur tournaments that would pump our restaurants, hotels and attractions full of tourist cash.
The Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority will examine the study before making a recommendation to county officials.
Allow us to mix sports metaphors a bit and call the proposal a Hail Mary pass with the clock running out. It’s worth looking at, but a lot must go right for it to succeed.
There is much at stake, of course. Spring training is worth about $30 million to the local economy, the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau says.
That revenue is endangered by the planned departure of the White Sox, who have agreed to train in Glendale, possibly as early as 2009.
That would leave Tucson with two Cactus League teams: the Diamond-backs and the Colorado Rockies. Their contracts allow them to leave metro Tucson if fewer than three major league teams are training here.
Pima County must surmount several huge challenges to make the Sox’s plan a reality.
First, the county would have to line up a lot of tournaments. An economic analyst associated with the Sox study says the $46 million figure is based on nearly four dozen major youth and amateur tourneys coming to Tucson.
To provide perspective: This year’s Coldwell Banker Shootout at Fort Lowell Park brought 318 soccer teams from Arizona and the western U.S. into Tucson over one January weekend. The economic impact: $1.1 million.
Moreover, the county would need to market hyperaggressively, as it would be competing for youth tourneys against several heavy hitters.
A well-regarded youth complex can be found in Marietta, Ga., where East Cobb Baseball has strong ties to the Atlanta Braves. There is Cooperstown Dreams Park in Cooperstown, N.Y.
And Ripken Youth Tournaments (as in Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.) runs complexes in South Carolina and Maryland that boast, among other things, that players and their families can stay at “luxury condominiums.”
Our suggestion to the county is to keep working at finding a replacement team for the Sox. Even if youth baseball can recoup spring training’s lost revenue, Tucson’s quality of life will suffer without the Cactus League.
It is possible, of course, that the stars will align and Tucson will become a youth baseball mecca.
And maybe the Cubs will win the World Series this year.