The Baseball Guru Archives
[Previous entry: "Japanese Baseball News: Toritani Dials Looooong Distance; Leon Lee Hired by Mets"] [Main Index] [Next entry: "Mexican League News"]
02/24/2004 Archived Entry: "MLB Spring Training Today (2004) - and Tomorrow"
MLB Spring Training Today (2004) - and Tomorrow
by Joe Connor
One year ago, the Marlins opened their first spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla. with about as much likelihood of winning the World Series as the Tigers. Okay, so maybe not the Tigers.
But spring training’s phenomenal growth in recent years can largely be attributed to its aura of optimism. Like last year, no one in February 2001 and February 2002 could have predicted that the Diamondbacks and Angels would also capture World Series crowns. And the 2004 spring training season promises to be the most intriguing in recent years.
Parity has arrived in Major League Baseball and spring training in Arizona and Florida is on the crux of change.
Now, I know many of you are thinking I’m crazy: "Parity? C’mon! The Yankees and Braves are in the playoffs every year…"
Yes, the Yankees and Braves have been annual playoff participants since 1995. But on the flip side is this reality: only a half-dozen of the 30 Major League teams entering 2004 have absolutely no shot at making the playoffs (Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Pirates, Reds, Brewers). Sure, the Devil Rays and Expos won’t be anybody’s pre-season pick to win their divisions either but at least they have an outside, albeit slim chance.
And a chance is all fans ask for at spring training where the opportunity to witness fresh new faces in different places is most of the fun.
Florida may host six more teams than the Grand Canyon State for spring training, but what the Cactus League may lack in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality. A total of nine clubs call Phoenix home, including defending league champions, Oakland, San Francisco and the Chicago Cubs. And fans headed to ‘The Valley of the Sun’ will see the likes of David Wells (Padres), Juan Gonzalez (Royals) and Vladimir Guerrero (Angels) make their desert debuts in new threads. There’s also plenty of great baseball to be had in Phoenix with Ichiro’s Mariners, the new-look Brewers and a renovated Athletics ballpark. About 100 miles south in ‘Old Pueblo’ Tucson, Roberto Alomar (Diamondbacks) and Vinny Castilla (Rockies) make their return to the desert for spring training while the White Sox usher in a new era under Ozzie Guillen.
The defending World Series champion Marlins have new company in the 18-team Grapefruit League this spring training, with Terry Francona, Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke debuting in Fort Myers who will get to know their Lee County neighbors, the Twins, quite well. Up the Gold Coast, the Reds and Pirates hold court in Sarasota-Bradenton while further up I-75, Tino, the Crime Dog and Shef return home to Tampa Bay, decked in new uni’s. The Blue Jays spring neighbors, the Phillies, begin a new era in the Bay area at Bright House Networks Field while also welcoming newcomers Billy Wagner and Tim Worrell.
On the Sunshine State’s Atlantic side, Sidney, Miggy, Javy and Raffy don Orioles colors in Fort Lauderdale under Maz, while up I-95, the Cards, Fish, Dodgers and Expos will be among the first to see Kaz Matsui and the Mets at their recently renovated ballpark in Port St. Lucie. Heading to inland Central Florida, Mickey Mouse and friends welcome the Tigers, Indians, Braves, and the Astros new aces, Andy Pettitte and The Rocket, Roger Clemens.
Not enough intrigue? Well, consider the fact that this spring could likely be the end of the line for historic Fort Lauderdale Stadium, a ballpark that has been graced by everyone from Yogi Berra to Cal Ripken, Jr. The Orioles lease expires in Fort Lauderdale at the end of this year and the City of Fort Lauderdale claims it is losing money on the ballpark and wants out of the spring training business.
Then there’s the never-ending, plot-twisting, would-MLB-make-up-their-mind-already Expos. If Major League Baseball, which ridiculously owns the ‘please find us a home’ Expos, sells the team to a group in Portland, Ore. or Las Vegas, it would make geographic sense for the franchise to conduct future spring training festivities in Arizona. What’s more, Arte Moreno has already begun expediting the process of moving his Angels from Tempe Diablo Stadium and into a new spring training complex in Phoenix’s West Valley community of Goodyear. The Angels owner, who was also busy this winter opening his wallet to sign Guerrero, Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar, could have that ballpark ready by 2006 – and it could potentially host two teams.
For obvious geographic reasons, the Orioles first choice is to remain in Florida for spring training and in 2005 that is likely their only alternative. But there’s just one problem: the club currently has no long-term solution in the Sunshine State. Unlike Arizona, there isn’t a new spring training complex in motion in Florida. So unless a last-minute savior rescues Fort Lauderdale Stadium with some cool hard cash towards an expansion and renovation, change is inevitable – and in the Expos case, we’ll all know by the All-Star break what direction they’ll be headed beyond 2005 as well. For scheduling reasons, an even number of teams – in this scenario, 14 – make this future Cactus League situation entirely possible.
Further adding intrigue is the fact the White Sox would like nothing more than to move up to Phoenix and fill the potential Tempe vacancy.
Unlike the old days, Major League clubs now see spring training as a revenue opportunity, and a White Sox move closer to the rival Cubs in nearby Mesa would excite their fan base, adding more North-South Chicagoland battles to the Cactus League calendar. But the White Sox can’t bolt Tucson unless they find a replacement to share their existing complex with the Diamondbacks – a replacement that could be in the form of the Orioles or Las Vegas Expos Gamblers come 2006.
Of course, the Expos could also be awarded to an ownership group from the Washington, D.C. area and the Orioles could find a new partner in Florida, such as the Indians who are weighing the possibility of building a new dual-use spring training complex in Winter Haven. The Orioles also could share 2005 spring training with the Reds in Sarasota, or another Grapefruit League club temporarily for one-year, if Fort Lauderdale ultimately bows out.
Since 1990, a total of 12 new spring training ballparks have debuted while two others have been rebuilt from the ground up. So two things are certain looking ahead: 1) As remote as it may appear now, do not discount the likes of the White Sox, Royals or Padres playing in the Fall Classic; and 2) Spring training change is inevitable.
Major League Baseball Freelance Writer Joe Connor is the author of "A Fan's Guide To The Ultimate Spring Training Experience" that is available for purchase exclusively at http://www.modernerabaseball.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Replies: 1 Comment
Joe I'll wager my salary for a year that Tampa doesn't come within 30 games of a playoff spot- actually the Tribe has a better shot in the lowly Central to be the anual suprise team- Tampa??? cmon they have 0 shot
Posted by Bart Ewing @ 02/29/2004 11:55 PM EST