Eventually, the hope is that the new Goodyear Ballpark becomes a centerpiece of the city’s downtown. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images Photo)
The following is the sixth of an occasional series by Charles Fountain on the history and culture of spring training.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The slogan for the new Cleveland Indians complex here is “like no other.” That’s not at all true. At least not yet.
Today it looks rather like many another new complexes, glimmering, amenity-rich and well-appointed, and surrounded by nothing. Oh, there’s a housing complex across Estrella Parkway and the Phoenix-Goodyear Airport — notable for the several dozen passenger jets from different airlines that are mothballed there — is not too far away. But mostly the neighborhood around the brand new Goodyear Ballpark sits empty and expectant. If you know what to look for, however, there are hints at what’s to come.
Enter the stadium and notice that the playing field is below grade, and the concourse around the seating is at street level. That’s because down the road this concourse is going to be a city sidewalk, open to the public on non-game days, just another pathway on the stroll through downtown Goodyear. The grandstand seats will double as 8,200 park benches. There’s commercial space — a row of storefronts — inside the stadium. They are empty now, but the expectation is that one day soon, they’ll be a row of boutiques and shops selling much more than simply ball caps and jerseys, and selling year round. And there is a triangular patch of empty land in the right field corner of the stadium inside the fence near the foul pole that is going to be a hotel, its front door opening onto the concourse and a view of the ball field.
A baseball stadium fully integrated into downtown like a city park? A ballpark with its own hotel? That’s where they get off calling this place “like no other.”
One day soon, economy willing, this stadium that now dominates the horizon will be invisible from the horizon. It will instead be tucked into the center of a bustling downtown. Goodyear today is a city of 60,000, 20 miles west of Phoenix. Its population has tripled since the start of this decade, and, with 90 percent of its land area still undeveloped, it expects by mid-century to be a city of more than 400,000. And it is reinventing itself around this new ballpark. This will be Goodyear’s downtown. Instead of growing in a horizontal sprawl, like so many other Valley cities, Goodyear sees an opportunity to integrate all its community needs and wants into a blank-canvas downtown. “It’s not very often that a city has a chance to plan out how things are going to look and work for the next 75 years,” said Nathan Torres, the stadium manager for the new ballpark.
The neighborhood already has a name — Ballpark Village — and its second anchor will be the new Goodyear City Hall, to be built 2 1/2 blocks north of the ballpark. The rest of the master plan calls for a mixed use downtown of retail, commercial, and residential space. The plan shows the ballpark swallowed up by the collateral development, becoming an integral part of the neighborhood, like Wrigley or Fenway — or more accurately, like Camden Yards or Petco Park in San Diego, newer ballparks conceived and built with ancillary development in mind.
These grand plans were conceived and drawn in better financial times of course, and have stalled over the last six months. The private construction that will provide the economic lifeblood of Ballpark Village is exactly the sort of construction that has come to a screeching halt all across the Valley, and everything right now has been put on hold. But the stadium is there and that has always been the linchpin. The troubled economy everyone sees as a temporary thing. The dream not only lives in Goodyear, it is now tangible.
A half-mile down the road from Goodyear Ballpark — once the new city center is reality, this walk will no doubt be measured in city blocks, rather than in fractions of a mile — is the Cleveland Indians’ player development complex. Just south of the Indians complex is the construction of the player development complex for the Reds, who will leave Sarasota after this year and join the Indians in Goodyear in 2010.
Whether or not the grand new city of Goodyear rises around the new ballpark, the Indians already have all that they want out of this new partnership. Of the four major league teams training in new spring training facilities this year, the Indians are the only ones who moved for baseball reasons. The moves of the Rays, Dodgers, and White Sox were all done to enhance the business, not the baseball. Training in the Red Sox’ old facility in Winter Haven for the last 16 years, the Indians are coming from a place that was two generations out of date. Now they train out of a building that has a full acre of offices, locker rooms, classrooms, and weight and medical facilities. Video cameras cover every practice field and batting cage. There are a lot of smiles around the Indians offices these days.
“This has been a huge moral boost,” said Andrew Miller of the baseball operations staff. “For the players, the front office, the trainers, everybody in the organization.
“You’ve got to remember, spring training’s a job,” he continues. “Now it’s tough to complain when your job is major league spring training, but it’s a grind, six weeks away from your home and family. But it’s a lot easier in a place like this.”
The Indians are rightly proud of this new state-of-the-art facility, and delight in showing it off to writers and fans alike. They even sent DVDs featuring the facility to prospective free-agent signees. “We wanted them to know this is where you’ll work out,” said Miller. “This is available to you 12 months a year.”
There has been no recorded instance of a free agent signing with a team because of its spring training city or facility, and the Indians don’t expect it to start happening now. But if it ever did, well, then Goodyear would get no argument about having a spring training complex “like no other.”
Charles Fountain is a journalism professor at Northeastern and has authored a book on the history and culture of baseball spring trainng, titled “Under the March Sun.”