Diamonds in the Desert: A Baseball Blog from Tucson

Baseball Springs Up In Tucson
March 23, 2013, 15:29
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’ve pretty much been sitting around like a bump on a log during these early weeks of Spring Training, feeling flat and uninspired, as if all the action were taking place too far away to take note of.  In a sense, of course, that’s been true.  While teams have been duking it out in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, all the activity has been centered in the Phoenix metroplex…even our newspaper’s coverage seems lighter this season (although that may be a figment of my imagination).  I’ve been mourning the loss of those days when there were three major league teams training right here in Tucson.  Days where you could just zip down to Hi Corbett and walk up for a ticket to see the Rockies play the Angels.  Days where there was always at least two games going each and every day of Spring Training.  Yes, those days have been long gone for quite some time, but this year their absence seems dearer to me.  Perhaps that has to do with the impending departure of our AAA team at the end of this summer – the prospect of having no professional baseball in Tucson at all overwhelming every other piece of baseball news this season.

I know of people who have given up on the professional game (you abandoned us, we’ll abandon you) and have switched their affections over to the University of Arizona’s Wildcat baseball team.  College World Champions last season, the Wildcats have done an awesome job recreating Hi Corbett as a magnificent baseball venue.  It makes me happy to see this once proud major-league facility sparkle as a home for baseball once again.  Kudos to the U for their efforts there.  And the boys play with all their heart and their games are good entertainment.  But for some reason I can’t quite define, their games just don’t “do it” for me.  I’ve been incredibly impressed with their play in the two games I’ve attended, but those games didn’t quite scratch my itch for baseball.  (Perhaps in the coming years, when there is no other alternative, that will change for me.)  But I will tell you this:  there are sunset views at Hi Corbett that are hard to beat anywhere else in Tucson.  Last Friday night, after a day with some clouds, Wildcat fans in attendance at the park were treated to an incredible display of sunset color that deepened and changed and went on and on for at least 45 minutes…until you were breathless from all the times you’d turned to your friend next to you and said, “Oh my goodness, did you see that?” and you were talking about some distinct change in the lighting and coloring, and not the double-play that had also just been turned on the field. It was a beautiful evening, spent with friends, watching baseball:  but it didn’t get me going the way professional (even minor league or Indy ball) baseball does.

Here’s how different the “real deal” is for me…  I purchased tickets for both of the Spring Training games that the Tucson Padres were hosting at Kino Stadium and blocked those times and dates so that NOTHING would get in the way of enjoying those games with my friends.  (Sadly, even unexpected funeral services – two friends gone – couldn’t drag me away from my planned outing at the ballpark.  May BD and ST rest in peace.)  And the day before each game felt a little like Christmas Eve’s of my childhood.  My attention span was just terrible…forced to focus on the dayliness of life, while dreaming of the gifts I’d get the following day.  No use trying to study my lessons…I’d suddenly find myself staring off into space, hearing a distinct voice in my head, growing in volume, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy – baseball tomorrow!”  I spent the day rushing through the tasks on my to-do list, as if that might hurry things along and bring THE BIG DAY to me faster.  Suddenly my whole life seemed to revolve around that moment when I could get in my car and drive to the ballpark.  THAT’S how “real” baseball is for me – the greatest joys of my life.  And the games didn’t let me down, either.  Even if the Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres were split-squad and sent a bevy of future minor leaguers to play on Sunday…it was still live professional baseball played in my town.  Bliss!  Here’s a quick rundown of each game:

Sunday, March 17:  SD Padres 6; AZ Diamondbacks 8.  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the players all wore green caps – the bases were also green – a leprechaun threw out the ceremonial first pitch, San Diego sent pitcher O’Sullivan out to start the game, and you could purchase green beer from one of the beer vendors on the concourse.  In spite of the fact that neither team sent their “A” team, Tucson fans showed up for the game in droves: there were over 10,800 fans who joined my buddies and me at the game!  Lines on the concourse for concessions were atrocious (a common problem with a huge crowd), but fans seemed too happy with the event to let that distract them.  Glorious sunshine (a lovely 86 degrees), beautiful well-tended green field, the distinct sounds of balls thrown hard hitting leather or bat…my kind of Nirvana!  Because my loyalties to these two teams is all scrambled, I ended up cheering for both teams, but especially for my former Tucson Padres players with San Diego (particularly for Kyle Blanks and Sawyer Carroll).  The game itself was slow-developing, with no homers or terribly spectacular plays, but it was well-played and great fun to watch.  The DBacks never trailed in the game, but San Diego put a scare into them when they put up five runs in the sixth inning to tie the game.  Arizona then put up single runs in each of the final two innings to take the win.  My one disappointment with the entire event was that the DBacks, our own “local” major league team, didn’t set up a table to hand out regular season schedules or otherwise promote their team to local fans.  Aside from that, the whole day was just what the doctor ordered for a baseball fan longing for a day at the ballpark!

Thursday, March 21:  LA Dodgers 5; Chicago Cubs 4.  Since their move from Florida into the Cactus League, the Dodgers have had a heart for Tucson and its fans.  They may have become the New York Yankees of the NL West in terms of spending (following their ownership change last season), but they also have a soft spot for a very worthy cause.  For the last 3 years, the Dodgers have given of their time (and “A” team) to help raise money for the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation.  If you follow the game here in Tucson, you know that one of their scouts is John Green, father of Christina-Taylor, who was killed in the Safeway shooting attack on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.  Both the Dodgers and the Cubs honored the Foundation by sending the heart of their teams to play in Thursday’s game (good article here).  The fans obviously loved them for this…over 11,100 folks joined me and my friends for the game.  In fact, the game sold out the day before it took place!  What joy to see (for the Dodgers) Matt Kemp (he’s quoted as saying he’ll support this event every year if asked), Andre Either, Juan Uribe, Nick Punto and (for the Cubs) Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, and old friends Scott Hairston (former Tucson Sidewinder) and Anthony Rizzo (former Tucson Padre…remind me again, San Diego, why you let this kid go)!  I was so thrilled to see these guys that once again I found myself cheering for both teams!  Castro hit out a solo homer in the third and later stole a base (I’d been hoping to see some of his speed on the base paths); Alex Castellanos of the Dodgers whacked out a three-run homer in the fourth.  Both got me on my feet cheering.  (There was one odd, rather inexplicable, feature of this game that still has me scratching my head:  the Cubs had their starting pitcher hit in the nine hole…the Dodgers used a designated hitter.  Since when can the teams play that rule differently?  Interesting and strange.)  The Cubs struck first, but the Dodgers took the lead on Castellanos’ homer and held on to eke out a win in spite of a rather rocky ninth by Dodgers’ reliever Sean White.  I won’t talk (much) about the absolute nightmare of trying to depart Kino after the game…the one major drawback to Kino Stadium has always been egress with a crowd of that magnitude.  An overcast sky, and a game-time temperature of 76 degrees, made the afternoon incredibly pleasant – another perfect baseball day!  (More on this game here)

And so we have a wrap on Spring Training baseball here in Tucson.  It may have only been a small portion, but it satisfied this baseball fan’s longing for the game.  Coming up next, of course, will be the Tucson Padres third (and final) season of play at Kino Stadium.  The major league teams continue to cut players off their Spring rosters, but there is still no definitive word about who’ll be on the T-Pad team this season.  Tucson begins the season out of town, but will host its home opener on April 12th at 7pm.  I’ve got tickets…and you?  I hope to see you there!

(Disclaimer – This posting has not been reviewed or approved by Pima County, the City of Tucson, the Tucson Padres, Tucson AAA Baseball, San Diego Padres, PCL, MiLB, MLB, National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority, or any other baseball official and represents the views and biases of the author alone)


4 Comments so far
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Ya know, Melinda, some people make the drive up I-10, enjoy all that the big city has to offer and live to tell the tale. xoxox

Comment by Lois B

I know…I know… I always tell myself to schedule a week’s vacation in the Phoenix Metroplex to take in a bunch of Spring games, but I somehow forget to follow through once I buy my tickets for games in Tucson. I suppose Phoenix will be my only option for any kind of live baseball in the future. Maybe someday they’ll have light rail service so I can avoid doing that drive myself…

Comment by windersblog

As much as I do not appreciate the D’backs and Rockies abandoning Tucson ST, I still want to see Talking Stick Fields.

However, I’d also want to do an “overnighter” than drive back tired.

Comment by Jodi Goalstone

Yes! We’ll have to work that out next year!

Comment by windersblog

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