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Could Cubs end up back in Grapefruit League?

In his annual spring meeting with reporters, Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney admits the team’s days at Mesa’s HoHoKam Park are numbered and says the team is looking at a new spring-training home.

The issue: the team practices at Fitch Field and plays at HoHoKam Park. While HoHoKam Park is a perfectly fine facility and the Cubs are a great draw — perennially leading the Cactus League in attendance — the ballpark lacks the luxury amenities you find in the new spring facilities. When you have luxury, you have bigger bucks (in theory; the Dodgers and the White Sox found out differently this spring at Camelback Ranch Stadium). And with Tom Ricketts closing on the $900-million purchase of the Cubs and Wrigley Field, the more bucks the better.

Hence the search for a new spring-training home. With a renovated HoHoKam Park apparently already out of the picture for the Cubs, the team has been casting about for a new spring home, either in Arizona or Florida. It would certainly be a long-delayed return to Florida should the Cubs return to the Grapefruit League; the team last trained in Florida in 1916, when the Cubs set up shop in Tampa.

We hear three locations are at the top of the Cubs’ nascent wish list: a new ballpark on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Chandler, a Mesa location next to a proposed Gaylord hotel/convention center, and Sarasota in Florida.

All three have some advantages. It’s no secret the Gila River tribe has been on the prowl for spring-training team, having already responded to a request for bids from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. The tribe would need to change its plans to attract the Cubs: the bid was for two teams, but the Cubs are making it very clear they have no plans to share a facility with another team.

The surprise contender in all of this: Sarasota. Really, on one level it’s not a surprise: Sarasota’s demographics are absurdly strong, there’s already interest in town for spring training, and the city has a location — Payne Park — already in place. (The Cubs aren’t interested in a renovated Ed Smith Stadium; their demands are for a new facility.) Plus, there’s already a pot of money on the table, one that may be sweetened if the Cubs express strong interest in the city. We’re also told the Cubs’ Florida list begins and ends with Sarasota; they’re not interested in Dodgertown or Fort Myers, and they don’t see any new complex in Orlando being a realistic proposition.

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