A wire story from The Associated Press dated Jan. 9 indicated the city of Tucson, Ariz., is looking for a Japanese club to play about 15 spring training games there in 2010, replacing the American League’s Chicago White Sox who have moved their spring training base to the Phoenix area.
Now, the community of Sarasota, Fla., is thinking along the same lines with an eye to fill its stadium being vacated after next month by the Cincinnati Reds. That National League club is moving to Glendale, Ariz., after 11 years in Sarasota, and the city fathers are hoping to keep alive the tradition of 84 years of spring training in their town.
Joe Barbetta, one of five elected Sarasota County Commissioners, said by phone from Florida, “We thought we had a deal with the Boston Red Sox, but it fell through about a month ago. We’re talking to the Baltimore Orioles as well, but their demands are high, so that’s not looking good.
“We have had inquiries from some former major league players about helping us to get a Japanese or Korean team or teams to train here for next season.”
Barbetta mentioned the area has a lot to offer any club that might be looking for a nice place to conduct its preseason workouts.
“Our Ed Smith Stadium complex covers 54 acres (22 hectares) with a quad-field layout plus the main venue which seats 7,600,” he said. In all, there are 5 1/2 diamonds plus all the facilities typical of any big league training site.
Barbetta, originally from upstate New York, said, “I am a sports nut and a firm believer that it is an economic development generator, and worked hard to try to keep the Reds from leaving Sarasota. Cincinnati wanted to stay, but (Reds team president and CEO Robert) Castellini got a better offer (from Glendale).”
Barbetta then checked all the spring training leases of the major league clubs to determine which teams might be looking for a new February-March home on the Florida Gulf Coast and saw where Boston and Baltimore might be possibilities.
The deal with the Red Sox that would have brought the 2007 World Series champions to Sarasota missed final approval among the county commissioners. Barbetta supported the proposal, of course, but they realized they just could not get the four votes necessary for passage.
It would have been advantageous, he pointed out, for Boston to move from Ft. Myers, 125 km south of Sarasota and 206 km from Tampa, because they would have gone from the outer edge of spring camp sites on Florida’s West Coast to the center.
“It would have been more convenient for them to play the Yankees, for example,” he said. New York trains in Tampa.
The Orioles, meanwhile, are in Ft. Lauderdale on Florida’s East Coast but may move next year to the former Dodgertown in Vero Beach (Los Angeles has also skipped out to Arizona and the Cactus League), another stadium in Ft. Myers with the Red Sox or — maybe — Sarasota.
Barbetta knows full well the high level of attention given by the Japanese media to a spring training camp where a team has a high-profile player or two from Japan and expects it would be even more intensified if an entire Japanese team were there.
“Normally, there would be about five photographers at the Reds spring camp,” he noted, “but when the Japanese media shows up, you get maybe 30 photographers; not to mention the (Japanese) reporters and fan contingent.
Boston’s camp should be loaded with cameramen from Japan snapping shots of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito and Junichi Tazawa.
The Orioles, too, will attract the press from Nippon covering ex-Yomiuri Giants ace pitcher Koji Uehara as he embarks on his first year in the majors.
Barbetta is constantly trying to convince the Sarasota commissioners of the benefits of getting an American or National League team with star Japanese players or a Japanese team to train in the city, and he is not giving up.
“We’ll be talking to a couple of groups next week,” he said. “There is one with an idea to bring one Japanese team (to Sarasota), and another thinking about a series of teams from Japan and/or Korea. We’ll see how it goes.”
Barbetta was told timing might be an issue, because all 12 Central and Pacific League clubs start spring training Feb. 1, whereas the major league early arriving pitchers and catchers do not even report to camp until mid-February when the Japanese leagues are almost ready to begin exhibition games.
“If that is the case, it would probably make more sense to train in Japan, then for them to show up (in Sarasota) about Feb. 25 and end up playing about 13 or 14 exhibition games in the Grapefruit League from about March 1 to 21, then go back to Japan to prepare for Opening Day.”
As an incentive, he says the city could offer use of the stadium and facilities for little or no rent and might possibly pay up-front money of about $5 million to $7 million for renovations, based on the potential economic impact.
Getting a Japanese team to go to Florida or Arizona will be difficult, however. Problems encountered by teams from Japan which trained overseas in the past were pointed out in this column last week, but the best chance would seem to be, as Barbetta suggested, show up for the exhibition season.
Most of the CL and PL clubs are committed to taking the pre-exhibition, February portion of their spring training at the places where they are right now. Once they end camp and start playing preseason games, it might be easier to get a team to leave the country.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com