"It ain't over until it's over.”
— Yogi Berra
Well, folks, it's all but over.
Spring training in Tucson, born in 1947, is all but history. There are just a handful of games left in what has been a lifetime of memories for more than a few Tucsonans who lived and breathed springtime baseball at Hi Corbett Field or Tucson Electric Park.
Gone – or soon to be – but not forgotten. Chicago White Sox went last year. The Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks will say "adios” at the end of the month. Destination: Phoenix.
"I've lived in Tucson most of my life and it's sad,” said Ron Dominguez, a 61-year-old retiree and Northwest resident. "But I can't blame these guys," he said, pointing to the Diamondbacks players. "You can't blame the team. It's all about money. Tucson doesn't have enough to support this style of baseball, I guess. Otherwise they would have said so.”
CEO and president Derrick Hall said it was never about the money, but instead about logistics and competition. With the White Sox gone and the Rockies soon to follow, the Diamondbacks – Arizona's pride and joy – had no other choice but to leave town. Loyalties or no loyalties.
"This is a bittersweet spring indeed,” Hall said. "The city of Tucson and Pima County have meant a great deal to this franchise. We are so appreciative of the hospitality and the support since our inception. It was our desire to stay there, but we needed enough teams to make it work.”
Hall said the team was having such a hard time competitively and travel-wise that it made sense to move closer to more teams.
"We tried to lure teams from the Grapefruit League and from the Valley so we could stay, but were unsuccessful,” he said. "The decision had nothing to do with the fans, revenues or the facilities. We were happy in Southern Arizona and will miss it sorely.”
Hall said he is hopeful Diamondbacks fans in Southern Arizona will still remain loyal. He added there will be a Tucson Appreciation Day later this month before it's all over.
But until then, the countdown continues. It'll go until March 31 when Arizona faces the Rockies in the spring training "sayonara." But is really a sayonara? Mike Feder, the former Tucson Toros general manager and the man on a white horse hoping to save professional baseball in the Old Pueblo, says he doesn't look "at professional baseball as being gone because I'm still confident we'll get the Japanese thing done.”
In Feder's view – and many who have been optimistic it's a deal that can be done – it would mean "spring training is still alive” because the Japanese would be playing against major league teams. Feder said he's optimistic two Japanese teams will finalize their intentions soon to play here.
"I'm not trying to be naïve, but that's how I look at it,” said Feder, executive director of the Pima County Sports Authority. "Do we have major league teams every day from late February on? No. But how many people are exposed to the backfields of spring training anyway? If we get the two Japanese teams, we will replace a lot of that (void).”
Feder said it's been his mission to replace the dollars lost by the teams leaving – Feder estimates each team brings in about $10 million each a year in economic impact – can be replaced in two to three years in a variety of ways, including the Japanese teams and college tournaments.
Yet, it's debatable whether it'll likely entice fans like Simone O'Connor or John Sorokach, who spent two days in Tucson taking in two spring training days. They traveled from Phoenix to see their beloved Diamondbacks last week.
"It's a beautiful park and it's a shame to know it's not going to be used,” said Sorokach, sitting outside the leftfield fence at TEP. "There's a long history of spring training down here.”
Wearing shorts despite a 50-degree chill, O'Connor said "where else can you sit at a game and turn around see the snow on the mountains? It's beautiful (here) but unfortunate (they are leaving).”
It was news to Devan Pina, 20, who brought his 11-month-old son, Augustine, to his first game.
"I remember my first time coming to a game,” he said. "I was real young. … They are leaving? And the Rockies? No more? That's not good.”