AS RECENTLY as2002 Florida hosted twice as many baseball teams in spring training (20 to 10)as Arizona. But this year the Dodgers have left Vero Beach for Glendale and theIndians have bolted Winter Haven for Goodyear; after the Reds leave Sarasotanext season to share the Indians' site, the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues willeach have 15 members. Though Arizona lacks the coastal charm of Florida, theminimal rain there means managers can better plan their pitching schedules, thecloser proximity of the spring training sites cuts down on bus travel, and—oh,yes—there's more public money to be had in the desert.
To build touristdestinations, Arizona municipalities are willing to invest. The Rangers and theRoyals, who in 2003 left Florida to share the Surprise Recreation Campus, forexample, didn't pay for their $48.3 million ballpark complex. According to theArizona Office of Tourism, spring training injected $310 million into theeconomy in '07, up 54% in the five seasons since this Westward expansion began;about 57% of spring training fans come from out of state.
After studyingspring training in 2000 the Florida Sports Foundation reported a $453 millionboon from its 20 teams. "Obviously ... that's awfully important to us,"says Governor Charlie Crist. Towns that have lost teams have sought to reusethe space. After Cincinnati left Plant City for Sarasota in 1997, for example,the fields were converted for softball; Plant City is now home to theInternational Softball Federation and various tournaments throughout theyear.
Businesses inWinter Haven have suffered with the Indians' departure, but the city struck adeal to host RussMatt college baseball spring-break tournaments, which includesabout 200 schools. Winter Haven hopes to recoup $16 million of the roughly $23million the Indians brought in each year. In Florida, municipalities are beingforced to learn what big league managers have long known: Spring is a time fornew ideas.
March 8, 2009
MLB teams since 2002 that have relocated from Florida to Arizona
Rise in Arizona's spring training revenue from 2003 to '07