|Crist promotes Florida as Arizona lures teams for spring|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 26 February 2008 13:10|
No wonder Gov. Charlie Crist wants to show Major League Baseball a little love Tuesday by reviving the annual governor's dinner celebrating the start of spring training.
Crist wants to keep alive a tradition that began in Florida a century ago - teams coming down from the North to get ready for the new season, bringing with them winter-weary fans. The state estimates that spring training contributes $450 million to Florida businesses, with attendance topping 1.7 million last year.
``It adds a lot to our economy, a tremendous amount to the quality of life,'' Crist said. ``One of the best ways to see a baseball game is during spring training. It's up close and personal.''
Teams often find municipalities in Florida and Arizona competing to attract them for spring training. Cities and counties offer to build stadiums, in the hope that having a major league team train there will attract tourists. Few teams, like the Dodgers, have spent decades in the same stadium. Instead, many move when they get better offers.
For instance, the Reds said they wanted to stay in Sarasota, but began their negotiations after county officials refused to spend $18 million to upgrade their stadium and practice facilities.
Now they could have a chance to play in a new facility more than 1,800 miles away.
``It's a critical time, no question about it,'' said Crist, who recalled attending the dinners when he worked as a lawyer for Minor League Baseball and Bob Graham was governor.
Florida governors began hosting the baseball dinner about 60 years ago to welcome teams to Florida. That tradition ended in the mid-1990s when the late Lawton Chiles was governor. But Crist believes now is the time to show baseball officials how much he appreciates them.
Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr., are among the dinner's scheduled guests, as well as Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy. The event at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, will also feature photos and memorabilia from Florida's baseball history.
``The governor deserves enormous credit for reviving these and we're delighted to participate,'' DuPuy said.
Kevin McCarthy, a University of Florida English professor who wrote a book about the history of baseball in Florida, thinks bringing back the baseball dinner is a good idea.
``When baseball teams see that officialdom is behind baseball, that really means something,'' McCarthy said.
Florida benefits beyond just ticket sales. McCarthy noted that reporters from cold-weather cities provide appealing accounts of the state.
``They write back not only about the baseball games, but also about what's happening in the cities in Florida in mid-March,'' he said. ``At a time when the Northeast is still really cold, you read about the sunshine and the weather and the great fishing. That's tremendous publicity.''
When it was snowing and 30 degrees in Boston last week, the top headline on The Boston Globe's Red Sox Web page read ``It's 80 degrees somewhere...''
But it's also warm in Arizona, where the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants began training in 1946. The Cactus League expanded to three teams in 1952. Several teams have moved back and forth between the states in the decades that followed, a migration that's been working more in Arizona's favor in recent years.
Next February, when the Indians move back to Arizona and the Dodgers leave Vero Beach after six decades, Florida will be down to 16 spring training teams. Arizona will have 14.
The Cincinnati Reds are negotiating with Goodyear, Ariz., officials and could move from their Sarasota camp in two years, meaning teams would be evenly split between the spring training states.
DuPuy recognizes that, but notes Florida's history goes back much further and remains tremendously successful.
``Spring training will always be synonymous with the Grapefruit League and Florida,'' DuPuy said. ``In my view there is no experience like when pitchers and catchers report.''
Promoting Florida is not just about preserving spring training, but also making sure the state keeps the Rays and the Florida Marlins and continues a large minor league presence, Crist said.
The Rays and Marlins were second-to-last and last in attendance in 2007. The Rays have also finished last in the American League East for nine of their 10 seasons and have never had a winning season, while the Marlins have twice torn apart World Series championship teams in salary purges.
The Marlins have an agreement with Miami and Miami-Dade County to build a new stadium after years of failing to put together stadium financing. They had discussed moving to San Antonio or Las Vegas. The Rays are also hoping to build a new stadium. Crist supports both teams' stadium efforts.
The governor said somewhere down the road, he'd also like to see a third team in Florida. When and where ``is not for me to decide, but I think it would be a great goal for us to aspire to.''