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Ocker on Spring Training


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Selfishly, it's a shame that the Tribe moved West. Still think it'll work out well for the club in the long run. As for fan activity in the grapefruit league, the few games I've been to have had decent crowds. What's missing is the traffic at the workouts and in the team shops. There just aren't as many snowbirds down here as in years past. There just aren't as many PEOPLE down here as in years past.


One of the Tampa papers had a terrific front page cartoonish picture above the fold. It was a facsimile of one of the popular "wish you were here" postcards sent by vacationers to those unlucky enough to remain in cold climates. Only this time it came from the economy and really REALLY wished they were here.


Ocker on Indians: Economy takes spring out of step to Arizona

By Sheldon Ocker

Beacon Journal sports writer

POSTED: 06:46 p.m. EST, Feb 28, 2009


PHOENIX: Now that the Indians have relocated their spring training headquarters to Arizona, everything is peachy keen.


What does that mean? Start saving your cash to buy playoff tickets. The postseason is a lock. The state-of-the-art facility at Goodyear should ensure a division championship or at least a wild-card berth, and never mind that the rival Chicago White Sox opened new spring digs a couple of weeks ago just up the highway.


Come to think of it, nobody I know has done a study demonstrating that teams with the finest in spring training accoutrements win more titles than clubs that train in, say, Winter Haven, Fla. On the other hand, the Baltimore Orioles have been wandering aimlessly through Florida for years looking for a permanent (read, plush) place to train, and they haven't won anything in a couple of decades, since they were ensconced in a sketchy Miami neighborhood.


Of course, nobody among the Tribe's deep-thinkers has any illusions about winning a World Series in February and March. But as manager Eric Wedge said a few days ago, the new complex is a boon to the ''organization.''


That is, the facility can be used year-round, not just in the spring. Some players and coaches will move to metro Phoenix (Ryan Garko already has), in part to take advantage of the many workout toys (How about an underwater treadmill?) and helpful training staff.


Injured players can rehab at Goodyear, which also will be the location of the Tribe's fall instructional league team. And in the spring, players actually will enjoy coming to the complex, not only because of the opportunities afforded by pristine fields and impressive muscle-building machinery, but also because Phoenix can be a fun place.


Fun also should lure fans to Goodyear. So far — and it's early — that has not been the case. Paid attendance for the first three exhibition games at the new ballpark averaged only 3,700, less than half the 10,000-seat capacity, which includes a lawn area behind the left field fence. Friday's game against the San Diego Padres lured only 2,735 into the sunshine.


The Indians probably would have done as well at Chain O' Lakes Park in Winter Haven. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances. Like, who has money to buy tickets to games that don't count, let alone cash for airfare from Cleveland, a hotel and restaurant meals?


Recessionary times have skewed the Tribe's plans to hold a monthlong Northeast Ohio reunion in Goodyear. Maybe next year. It only makes sense that when the economy finally jolts upward, the discretionary spending of many baseball fans will include a trip to spring training.


But how many? This is not the first time that the Indians have trained in Arizona. For 46 years, until 1993, the team spent its springs in Tucson, a 130-mile jog down Interstate 10 from Goodyear. You get the same sun, the same reliably dry climate and similar temperatures in Tucson.


And even though Tucson does not have quite the same cachet as its big brother to the northwest, there are plenty of things to do and places to go. Nevertheless, the Tribe never was a hit there, because fans from Ohio failed to show up in large numbers.




It's no secret that one reason former owner Dick Jacobs moved the team to Florida (he also wanted to do real-estate deals with a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox) was to boost spring training attendance. The thinking seemed sound: Many more Northeast Ohioans winter or vacation in Florida than in Arizona, which is largely regarded as the second home to Chicagoans. But something went wrong along the way. Jacobs first tried to build a complex in Citrus County, a few dozen miles north of Tampa. But when the team's demands became too steep, the county's citizenry (many elderly and on fixed incomes) told the Tribe to take a hike. That led to a disastrous commitment to Homestead — an isolated town south of Miami that already had a complex — which was so far from other big-league camps, it offered to fly teams in for games. Before the Tribe ever played in Homestead, the club took advantage of Hurricane Andrew to extricate itself from the deal. Unfortunately, the only place left was Winter Haven, hard to reach and never a ''destination city,'' as the Indians like to call a town that is capable of catering to visitors who do something other than photograph alligators and eat fast food.




So now, it is back to Arizona. When the Tribe left after the 1992 season, Tucson officials rejoiced. They would be getting the Colorado Rockies as a replacement. Having far less distance to go and being ''Western'' in temperament, surely those fans would come in greater numbers. Will the Florida bias of many Northeast Ohioans trigger the same lament among Goodyear officials, who are sinking almost $110 million into a stadium plus complexes for the Indians and Cincinnati Reds, who will join the party next year? If so, it's too late now. Not that Goodyear was putting all of its hopes on two teams that spend only six weeks a year in Arizona. The city had big plans to turn nearby property into a commercial, residential, retail and entertainment venue. That portion of the desert lies empty today, waiting for the bleak clouds of the strained economy to pass. It's certainly not a stretch to believe that all parties involved in Goodyear's investment will eventually be overjoyed with the results. But one thing is certain: for that to happen will take awhile. Probably longer than most people anticipated. In the meantime, the Indians are ecstatic with their new home, and Phoenix real-estate agents have conducted a little business renting apartments to Tribe players and staffers. That might not be much, but keep in mind Arizona's No. 3 foreclosure rate among all the states of the union. Of course, that might be good news to Northeast Ohioans who can afford a second home near their favorite baseball team. OK, so maybe not.





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I agree. I was sad to see the tribe move back west. Once they started in Florida, I guess I went down for long weekends 6-7 times, and unlike some, I liked the Winter Haven location.


I doubt.....no...I guess I should say I know I won't be attending any more spring training...at least Indians spring training. I am not that big a fan I am going to fly to Az to catch the action....usually action I would only stick around for 4-5 inning tops.

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Selfishly, it's a shame that the Tribe moved West. Still think it'll work out well for the club in the long run. As for fan activity in the grapefruit league, the few games I've been to have had decent crowds. What's missing is the traffic at the workouts and in the team shops. There just aren't as many snowbirds down here as in years past. There just aren't as many PEOPLE down here as in years past.



The economy as we all know has been, is, will continue to be in the toilet for awhile yet.


From what I had read the Indians "wanted to stay in Florida"


Winterhaven wasn't going to put anymore money into the facility for the Indians, they were going to build condo's and townhouses but I am sure that that plan is still in the same crapper as referenced above.


I am curious as to other Florida Cities, why no one wanted to have a ST team.


Unless it was that the Indians cache wasn't as valuable as say the Red Sox or even the O's?


Is it oversaturation of the Florida Market? Floridians being burned by the Indians abandoning Homestead?


Or was it that Goodyear offered such a great deal?


Lots of questions I know

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Lots of questions I know


All good questions and damn if I have an answer for any of 'em.


I know other Florida cities DID want a team. Port Charlotte, last the home of the Rangers, enticed the Rays down there with a rebuilt facility. However, there are just so many other needed improvements to most cities that a two month tenant is frowned upon by many city councils.


From what I've read, Goodyear did provide quite a good deal. It's also more appealing to the players and organizations to be in an area with so many stops within a short distance. The Phoenix area offers that, not so much for Florida. Players have shorter rides to games and scouts can check out multiple teams in a day. It's a chore to do that in Florida, though the less congested highways are making trips much easier these days.




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