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Will Tucson spring training return?

Arizona DiamondbacksWith the impending departure of the Tucson Padres (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), local officials are debating what can be done to bring back minor-league baseball or spring training to the city.

Current T-Padres GM Mike Feder is optimistic about a possible return of Minor League Baseball to Tucson:

“The only way of getting baseball is to have a Triple-A team move back to Tucson,” explained Mike Feder, the Tucson Padres’ general manager. “The closest Double-A league is the Texas League, and in the Texas League, the farthest city west is Midland, Texas. Then you look at Class-A, and the closest league is the California League, which is 100 percent bus. It doesn’t make sense geographically to come this far.

“That’s why it is so important that we finish strong this year. We can’t just limp to the finish line. We want to continue to show people that Tucson is a viable community.

“Five years from now, I believe a Triple-A team will be back in Tucson,” Feder said.

We just can’t see a path to pro baseball returning to the city unless some lower-rung indy league decided to splurge on Kino Stadium rent. The only MiLB league feasible for the city (mostly because of geography) is the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, and let’s face it: the last two attempts at PCL ball in the city were not very inspiring. You can excuse the T-Padres as being a hard sell because the team was planted there until a new ballpark elsewhere was built, but the T-Padres have done about the same as the previous PCL team, the Tucson Sidewinders. PCL ball in Tucson, beginning with the Toros, has never been a huge draw. Indy ball at Hi Corbett Field didn’t do well, either, and given the poor state of indy ball outside the four main circuits, that’s not a feasible option, either, especially with Hi Corbett off the market as the home of Wildcats baseball.

And talk of spring training returning to Tucson appears to be a long-shot as well. Spring training was never a huge draw in Tucson, and it will take an effort to bring in multiple teams to warrant spending the big bucks on a new spring-training complex.

This article from the Arizona Daily Sun is full of optimism and promise. There’s the chance local voters will approve a proposal Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority to raise funds via car-rental and restaurant taxes, which could yield $15 million annually for new sports facilities. But give the extremely unlikely chance of four teams seeking a new spring-training home in Tucson and the Pacific Coast League relatively set in its lineup, it’s hard to see pro baseball returning without a new ballpark — and after watching Tucson residents fighting over sports facilities over the last decade, we’re not sure there’s enough public appetite for tax hikes.

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