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The Grapefruit League vs. the Cactus League

Dec 30, 2009, 10:47 AM EDT

Cactus League.jpgThis spring there will be 15 teams training in Arizona and 15 training in Florida. As many teams outside of Florida as in is a first, and Florida politicians don’t like it:

It’s a trend that concerns Florida tourism officials and lawmakers, who
are determined to keep the Grapefruit League’s 15 teams, if not entice
others to join. Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Crist met with owners
of the Chicago Cubs and promised to “do whatever it takes” to lure them
to the Naples area for spring training . . . Legislation being drafted would create a pool of money the state can
use to award matching grants to communities and teams that want to
build stadiums or renovate existing facilities.

I don’t want to launch a giant political debate, but can I ask why government intervention in business is almost always viciously attacked, but no one ever cries “socialism” when they give money to billionaires to build ballparks?

Anyway, I don’t know that there’s much of anything that can be done to stop the movement west. Yes, I suppose there’s some baseline that we won’t go under in Florida due to eastern seaboard teams wanting to cater to retirees and vacationers who overwhelmingly choose to go to Florida over other places, but by all accounts Arizona has Florida beat as far as spring training experiences go.

Why? Because the facilities are all clustered around Phoenix, thereby cutting down on travel time and expense while concentrating the teams in a more densely-populated area.  The weather is more predictable.  I’ve heard Floridians say that Grapefruit Leaguers get in better shape because they sweat more there, but that sounds like a bogus reach to my untrained ears. I’m guessing an exercise physiologist could debunk it on the back of a napkin. Exertion is exertion.

But the biggest thing keeping the tide from turning is that public money. According to a pretty nifty book I read last spring, through early 2009, Arizona had spent roughly $250 million in public money building and improving
spring training facilities for major league baseball teams (they no doubt spent more this year to finish off the Reds’ portion of the new Arizona facility they share with the Indians). Florida has
spent too, but probably $100 million less than Arizona has.

So, my recession and housing-market-bust-crippled Floridian readers: You want your state to spend another $100 million — and likely much more — to lure the major leaguers back for a couple months each year?  I wouldn’t. Let ‘em go to Arizona. If you want to see them so bad, hop a flight to Phoenix. They’re pretty cheap, actually. 

  1. RobRob - Dec 30, 2009 at 11:00 AM

    Just because it’s not humid doesn’t mean those players in Arizona aren’t perspiring.

  2. Old Gator - Dec 30, 2009 at 11:48 AM

    “I’ve heard Floridians say that Grapefruit Leaguers get in better shape because they sweat more there, but that sounds like a bogus reach to my untrained ears.”
    No, they get in better shape here because our strange is better looking and doesn’t get sun-dried to shoeleather consistency by the time it hits 25 like the Arizona strange does. Craig, it’s not your ears that need retraining.

  3. APBA Guy - Dec 30, 2009 at 11:51 AM

    Florida is nobody’s idea of a well-run state. Graft, corruption, scandal…to Florida residents it’s just entertainment, paid for by tourism.
    And in fact most of the small cities that have lost Spring training teams were largely happy to see them go. Vero Beach, which lost the Dodger’s after an eternity there, is a good example of that phenomenon. The developers and their paid-for mouthpieces in local government wanted the Dodger’s complex. Most of the citizens were ambivalent, glad for less traffic, vaguely aware that a piece of history was now lost.
    Finally, the clustering effect of teams around Phoenix not only reduces travel cost, but there is a consensus that Phoenix has more top-quality restaurants than any Florida city.
    My family is from the Tampa/Orlando stretch of I-4. I can certainly vouch first hand for the restaurant quality concern.

  4. Jonas Fester - Dec 30, 2009 at 12:24 PM

    It’s also interesting to note that many college programs (D2, D3, JUCO’s) are now choosing Arizona over Florida for their spring break trips. Every year, these smaller division schools play about 10 games or so during their spring break. When I was in school, we made the switch from Florida to Arizona my sophomore year, after we had 3 rainouts during our week in the swamp the previous year. We would have to travel between 30 minutes and almost 2 hours for games, while in Arizona, 20 minutes max for our furthest field. It was well worth the extra price in plane tickets. Clearly, these states are not getting as much money from the colleges as they would from pro teams, but we are there the same time, and it definitely adds at least something more to the local businesses.

  5. Nick C - Dec 30, 2009 at 12:33 PM

    Arizona certainly has proximity of teams and weather in its favor. I lived out there for 7 years and everything is within about an hour’s drive. However, Arizona has a major problem…its elevation. The elevation poses severe problems when it comes to evaluating both hitters and pitchers. Only 3 of the last 10 WS winners have come from the Cactus League. Even acknowledging that less teams have trained in AZ than FL in the past, only 3 of the last 20 WS winners have come from the Cactus league. Seems there is something to the saying that “Champions train in Florida.”

  6. MarkH - Dec 30, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    Their “strange”? WTH?

  7. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 30, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    Umm, how can I put this in a way that keeps this a family site? Well, let’s just go here:
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=strange

  8. D-Luxxx - Dec 30, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    The Twins aren’t going anywhere. Joe Mauer bought a house in FL. I think he likes the strange down there just fine.

  9. B-RI - Dec 30, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    Florida?! Who wants to visit the “geriatric” state to watch baseball? Don’t forget you prunes.

  10. J. McCann - Dec 30, 2009 at 2:11 PM

    They may have a point about the sweating thing, as I believe Grapefruit league teams have had more playoff success. ;)
    Also, I thought there was a study out there that said pretty much every stadium gift from the taxpayers was a huge waste EXCEPT the spring training deals, as they do bring in people from out of state who would otherwise not spend that money locally.

  11. Old Gator - Dec 30, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    “Graft, corruption, scandal…to Florida residents it’s just entertainment, paid for by tourism.”
    .
    How true. But look at it this way: it’s our use of tourist money to pay for it, instead of taxpayer dollars, that distinguishes us from places like New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana.
    .
    And you are definitely right about the entertainment value. I strongly suspect that the delight we take in just sitting home and enjoying the spectacle on our TV newscasts has adversely impacted attendance figures for the Feesh and Rays.

  12. Pete Toms - Dec 30, 2009 at 5:33 PM

    “….but can I ask why government intervention in business is almost always viciously attacked, but no one ever cries “socialism” when they give money to billionaires to build ballparks?”
    http://harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/what-do-professional-athletes-have-in-common-with-bankers/

  13. The Rabbit - Dec 31, 2009 at 1:04 AM

    I don’t want to launch a giant political debate, but can I ask why government intervention in business is almost always viciously attacked, but no one ever cries “socialism” when they give money to billionaires to build ballparks?

    The simple answer is that we have a society of sheeple who are uneducated in both economics and political science who are willing to believe and/or promulgate misinformation on any subject if it serves their self-interests.
    There are numerous studies in journals for city/regional planners that conclude that municipal funding for private business interests generally produce long term negative results for community residents. These studies are largely ignored by politicians if there are short term advantages that can boost their political aspirations. (See: Developer Campaign Contributions; Payola to Political Supporters.) I will note that many of these same politicians swear their allegiance to the “free market system.”

  14. DonnyBaseball - Dec 31, 2009 at 3:19 AM

    Some of the newer teams to the Cactus League are getting sweetheart deals and communities are building first-class facilities. In the last 15 years, Peoria, Surprise, Glendale and Goodyear have all built new complexes. We’re not talking a stadium diamond and two fields for the minor leaguers. Each of the new complexes has at least five full-sized diamonds and an infield-only diamond. This is one reason that Florida is putting a full-court press on the Cubs. The Cubbies are the biggest draw in Arizona and have been coming to the Valley of the Sun since the days of Wrigley. By current standards, the Cubs facility in Mesa isn’t even close to the newer ones. But also, four of the five newest complexes were built on the outskirts of town where there’s a lot of land. Even the Diamondbacks (Colorado, too) will be moving to a new facility northeast of Scottsdale on Indian land for the 2011 Cactus League season. Cincinnati is the newest member of the Cactus League, sharing the 1-year-old facility in Goodyear with the Indians, west of Phoenix. In 2011, the longest “road trip” for a spring training team will be Surprise to Mesa. It’s about 50 minutes with traffic.

  15. Gibbs - Jan 1, 2010 at 12:40 AM

    It has taken a very long time for the Marlins to get a stadium built for them. Florida doesn’t seem to care. At any rate, since half of the teams have deserted Florida; it won’t be much longer before the others leave. In this case, if it didn’t make sense the teams wouldn’t leave.

  16. Ricola - Mar 8, 2010 at 11:36 PM

    Not to mention all the ballparks in AZ are just better with more atmosphere. They all have lawns in the outfield (most in FL don’t) so there are always people out enjoying the games and catching some of the beautiful Arizona springtime sun. Plus the city of Phoenix is alive in March with all the teams and their fans in town. Happy Hours are booming as everyone gets out of the games and celebrates the beginning of a new season. There is no place better than Phoenix in March.

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