Cincinnati Enquirer – January 29, 2010 – By Rory Glynn –
Spring training for the Reds won’t be the same here as it was in Florida, where the franchise played the first-ever Grapefruit League game in 1908 and spent the past 64 consecutive springs, the last 12 in Sarasota. How you feel about that depends on why you go to spring training.
If you’re a fan fixated on mixing in Florida beaches with your February baseball, then maybe you weren’t so happy with the Reds’ decision two years ago to move to the desert. Goodyear, nestled beneath the Estrella Mountains about 20 minutes west of downtown Phoenix, is hardly beachfront property.
But if your idea of basking in the sun is at the ballpark, then you’ll love the regions 320 average annual sunny days and average high temperatures of 71 degrees in February, 76 in March.
“Not to downgrade Florida, because beaches are wonderful, but you’re going to have 20 percent of your vacation days rained out,” said Robert Brinton, president of the Cactus League, the 15 teams that call Arizona their spring home. “That’s not going to happen here.”
You’ll love the high concentration of teams – 13 of the 15 Arizona clubs are within a 35-mile radius of one another in the Valley of the Sun, and next year, when the Diamondbacks and Rockies move into a new complex on Scottsdales eastern border, it’ll be all 15.
If you’re the Reds, you love the new sprawling player development complex a couple of good relay throws from the sparkling 10,000-capacity Goodyear Ballpark — a project with a total price tag of $108 million, when you factor in the Cleveland Indians adjacent complex.
Because while spring training for fans is a sunshine and star-gazing, for teams the bigger mission is preparing players for the long season ahead.
For the Reds, who agreed to move to Goodyear only after a deal to upgrade their Sarasota complex fell apart, the new facility will facilitate that preparation, as well as the year-round mission of scouting, training, developing and rehabilitating players.
“In the big picture on Arizona versus Florida, I always say there are three major bullet points for us in terms of why Arizona lets us get our work done better,” said Dick Williams, Reds vice president of baseball operations.
“No. 1 is the weather. The average rainfall is a fourth of what it is in Florida over that period. You have less rain impacting the daily workout schedule.
“No. 2 is you have 15 of the 30 teams in Arizona, and eight within 20 miles. When we were in Sarasota, the Pirates (in Bradenton) were the only team within 20 miles. And No. 3 is the newness of the facilities.”
They dont come newer than Goodyear.
The undeveloped area in proximity to Goodyear Ballpark looks something like the Reds one-time home in Plant City, Fla. – if Plant City had desert fauna. And jumbo jets.
Beyond the ballparks outfield fence is Phoenix Goodyear Airport, home to what’s known as a boneyard – a resting place for aircraft being parked or parted out.
“Pretty wild, huh?” said Mike Saverino, the Reds Arizona operations manager. “You should see it from the Indians complex. It looks like they’re right on top of you.”
Turns out, Goodyear isn’t Plant City at all. Whereas perpetually sleepy Plant City stayed that way in the Reds 10 seasons there, Goodyear has surged from 6,258 residents in 1990 to more than 62,000 today, and expects to top 100,000 within five years, according to the city. Goodyear also recently received two national livability awards.
Back up an exit or two from the ballpark and you’ll find every chain restaurant and big-box store you can fathom. And the city of Goodyear has a comprehensive plan for mixed-use (restaurants, offices and hotel/conference center) with the ballpark as its centerpiece.
“We’re on the right side (west) of Phoenix, in terms of growth and development,” Williams said. “And the ballpark village is the sort of forward-thinking, integrated vision were happy to be a part of.”
Goodyear Ballpark, which the Reds share with the Indians, is a brick-and-steel marvel of the type architect HOK Sport built its reputation building for the majors. At the front gate, a white sculpture with red baseball stitching, measuring 60 feet, 6 inches, the distance from the mound to home plate towers from a fountain.
All 8,500 permanent seats are lower-bowl and theres no upper deck – and seating capacity expand to 10,000 when you factor in grassy berm in the outfield and party areas behind home plate and in right field.
It has six luxury suites. Theres a 2,000-square foot team shop with Reds and Indians gear, four main concession areas focused on different fare (even cheese coneys).
Kids bored of the big guys game can have their own Wiffle ball game on a diamond up the right-field line, one of Goodyear’s many kids zone activities. The scoreboard in left field features the largest video boarding the Cactus League.
The Reds have their own dedicated clubhouse at Goodyear Ballpark, as do the Indians. The Reds clubhouse features the requisite flat-panel TVs and a spaciousness not found in Sarasota.
The Reds batting cages and practice mounds are tucked behind the right-field fence. In fact, Goodyear Ballpark has so many amenities it’s easy to forget the Reds will do only a fraction of their spring work here. Much of the heavy lifting will come less than a mile down South Wood Parkway, at the player development complex.
The Team Complex
Williams noted that the Reds complex in Sarasota covered 53 acres, counting Ed Smith Stadium.
“Now we have 50 acres just for the practice facility, excluding the ballpark,” he said. And thats theirs; the Indians have their own player development complex, with the teams sharing the stadium.
What was gained:
The Reds go from four full practice fields (Sarasota) to six (Goodyear); from one half field to two; from four covered batting tunnels to six; from six gang mounds to 20 (six completely shaded); from one observation tower to two; and added an agility field with an incline for training.
“Overall, we think fan access will be greatly improved over Sarasota, too,” Williams said.
Other improvements wont be visible to fans, such as the strength and fitness training areas, full hydrotherapy system with treadmill and underwater-camera monitoring, ample office and meeting space for front-office personnel, and full kitchens and dining areas for both major and minor leaguers.
Reds manager Dusty Bakers office includes two dressing lockers: one for Dusty and another for son Darren. There are three expansive clubhouses: one for Rookie and A-ball, one for Double-A and Triple-A, and one for the big-leaguers.
The major league clubhouse is particularly, uh, generous. Its shape is reminiscent of the Reds wishbone C. Black leather furniture has gray fabric accents with the wishbone C in red. The C is etched into glass tabletops. There are three docking stations for the players smart phones, PDAs, MP3 players and assorted geegaws.
Towering over it all is a pod of four 60-inch flat-screen TVs in a diamond shape in the middle of the room, which makes the TVs in the Great American Ball Park clubhouse look like the one on your kitchen counter.
“Phil (Castellini, the Reds chief operating officer) and I laughed about it,” Williams said. “He said, ‘theyre going to get used to this, and now hes going to have to do some improvements.’ But we were fortunate to have the space to do it. In the stadium, you’re somewhat limited.”
With Goodyear officials expecting each team to have an economic impact of $26.3 million on the local economy, Brinton is glad the Reds are in Arizona. Now he wants you to come see them.
“Were hoping in February and March there’s lots of snow on the ground in Ohio,” he said. “For your watershed, of course.”