Update on “baseball McMansions” in Arizona: White Sox also facing issues

Yesterday, I wrote about a new spring training facility in Arizona that one writer dubbed a “baseball McMansion.” While this particular park may have issues, it is not the only one. The Chicago White Sox also recently moved to the same area. Because of the economic recession, the White Sox are having attendance issues and the mixed-use development that was supposed to surround their facility has not been built:

Small crowds on the west side of the Valley are an alarming trend as the White Sox and other neighboring teams try to rebound in the wake of a depressed area.

“The opening of the Rockies-Diamondbacks stadium (Talking Stick at Salt River Fields) is definitely pulling people away,” Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said before 10,074 fans attended Wednesday’s game between the Sox and world champion Giants. “Now you have six teams in the east valley…”

But the Glendale area hasn’t developed into what the Sox thought when they decided to move from Tucson after the 2008 season.”One of the attractions to putting this ballpark here was the plan for what was going to be built around it,” Reinsdorf said. “By now, in our third year, we were supposed to be looking at restaurants and retail and a hotel and condominiums. And the guys who were going to do that went broke. So we’re sort of sitting out here by ourselves.

“All of the projections for the Phoenix area growth had Glendale in 10 years being the population center of the valley, a ton of people west of here. And that stopped. But at some point the economy will come back. This is too vibrant an area. And when it does come back, those projections will come true. So it’s just a delay.”

It may be some time before the White Sox and other teams see an uptick in attendance and building as Arizona has been hit hard by the economic recession, evidenced by foreclosures and a slowdown in development. Reinsdorf sounds quite optimistic about the future – perhaps he has to be if he has put a decent amount of money into this project.

it seems like now would be the time to look into why exactly the White Sox and other teams moved to this area. In their projections about Glendale, was their any allowance for a growth slowdown? Was the main draw the growing population in this area or were there certain financial incentives that made this move attractive? And what will happen to these spring training complexes if population growth in this area is limited for a significant amount of time?

Describing a “baseball McMansion”

The term McMansion is generally a pejorative word, typically referring to the size or the poor architecture of a home or the cookie-cutter nature of a suburban neighborhood. Occasionally, it gets applied to others structures, even baseball stadiums.  In a review of Scottsdale Stadium, the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants, a writer suggests that another spring training facility, Salt Water Fields, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, is more like a McMansion than a home:

Salt River Fields, someone said later, “isn’t spring training.” It’s a baseball McMansion. Scottsdale Stadium just feels like home.

Here is a little more of the description of the two ballparks. Scottsdale Stadium is described as, “intimate and evocative of its sport,” “the Cactus League’s quaintest stadium,” “The place blends into the landscape as if Frank Lloyd Wright had come back from the grave to assist the architects who replaced the old wooden park 20 years ago,” and “There is no such thing as a mediocre seat.” In contrast, here is how Salt River Fields is described: “The world up there seemed so different, the trip should have required a passport,” “Salt River Fields sits next to a Target and movie multiplex. Concrete rules the landscape, offset by some sprouting trees and cactus gardens,” “The parking lot and the walkways at the new stadium consume more space than the entire Giants facility,” and “Shade, like everything else, is more abundant than at the Giants’ park.” Overall, Salt River Fields is more suburban, bigger, less intimate, and features more space (particularly in the parking lots) while Scottsdale Stadium is more like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

It would be interesting to find out how fans respond to these two settings. Both offer certain amenities. Not everyone likes cozier, more intimate facilities like Wrigley Field. While Cubs fans tend to like the place, many others (including other teams) complain about the lack of space and outdated facilities (like the bathrooms). Additionally, we could ask whether Scottsdale Stadium really is authentic or simply borrows architectural and design features from other successful ballparks and tries to put them all together.
Ultimately, will baseball fans go in greater numbers to Scottsdale Stadium because of its design and atmosphere and avoid Salt Water Fields with its McMansion nature?

Again trying to link the fate of Cleveland with LeBron James

With LeBron James returning to Cleveland, ESPN has another story about how Cleveland has suffered. But let me take a few pieces of this story and offer an alternative explanation of what has happened to Cleveland:

The issue is not really sports – LeBron James is just the symptom. The real issue is similar to that of many Rust Belt cities – manufacturing jobs left, the population shrunk, and the city’s glory disappeared. The city has tried some various tricks: funding new sports stadiums and building the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

So when LeBron James, a local kid become star, joined the Cavaliers, the city perked up. Having James meant recognition, new money, and a chance for lasting glory with championships. When James left without bringing the championships, it turned into a cruel joke – the city is still recognized but as the place with terrible luck.

Having James for as long as they did masked the true problems of Cleveland. In fact, if James hadn’t played for the Cavaliers, there may be no one writing anything about Cleveland at all. For almost a decade, Cleveland could dream of sports and glory rather than thinking about what should be done to turn the city around. It won’t be easy: some of the ideas associated with reviving Detroit, which has drawn its own share of attention, are pretty drastic. Some other ideas that could be tried: developing park land along the water, building upon academic institutions, or trying to attract or develop newer industries.

Ultimately, the losing sports teams aren’t the issue. Sure, most cities would like to win championships. But the bigger issue is coping with or reversing the Rust Belt decline. LeBron wasn’t the answer – and Cleveland is still searching.