Major League Baseball played its mid-summer classic, the All-Star Game, in baseball-crazed St. Louis on Tuesday night.
"Field of Dreams," the Kevin Costner/James Earl Jones baseball classic, is making its mid-summer return to cable television. No, Ray Kinsella, it's not heaven, it's Iowa, but a baseball diamond in Iowa may be closer to heaven than a lot of other places.
July is a heady time for baseball, yet Tucson seems ever farther removed from a Field of Dreams. With the White Sox already departed, and the Diamondbacks and Rockies apparently on their way to greater Phoenix, Tucson's half-century link to spring training is going, going … about gone. The Sidewinders moved to Reno. The Toros put on a nice show, and they've drawn some fans, but Hi Corbett Field and Tucson Electric Park are largely idle.
On Monday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation enabling the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority to ask the people to tax themselves to support facilities for … sports and tourism. And whaddya know. Ten years after Maricopa County voters were given the ability to create real economic vitality and formidable, magnetic critical mass through the development of spring training facilities, Pima County gets to try the same thing. If the voters approve. Even it if might be too late.
The PCSTA isn't labeling this as money for spring training. They're calling it an "economic stimulus bill," according to a Monday release. Spring training is "just a vehicle that helps support tourism," tourism to the tune of about $10 million a team each spring.
But Major League Baseball is not the emphasis.
If the taxpayers would say "yes" to higher sales taxes — a big if, that — on a ballot to be presented as soon as November 2010 or as late as November 2014, an estimated $15 million in annual revenue would pay for new and renovated local youth and amateur sports facilities, as well as upgrading the current spring training venues. The money could also pay for the construction of a new MLB complex (most likely in Marana) if there are signed long-term agreements and a commitment from Japanese teams to train at Tucson Electric Park.
Youth and amateur sports "could have an even greater financial impact on this community than spring training after 3-5 years," the release said. At least 10 percent of the money — that's $40 million over a 30-year tax life — would help pay for youth and amateur sports facilities. Tucson's current facilities "fall terribly behind other regional cities." The authority wants to do something for everyone, including fields for soccer, football, rugby and lacrosse, softball and baseball, indoor basketball and volleyball courts, swimming facilities, and possibly a velodrome for bicyclists.
Most of the taxes would be paid by the people who would come to Tucson as tourists, paying taxes on rented vehicles and hotel rooms and the like. Private and other public funding sources would be leveraged with the tax dollars "to provide the most 'bang for the buck.'"
"The Legislature has given the Pima County voters the chance to speak," said Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority Chairman Tom Tracy. And speak they shall. It'll be really important for Tracy and his colleagues to put a moist finger in the wind and see how it feels, particularly if the voter is asked to make a different sales tax increase decision.
"We are definitely committed to work on the future of spring training along with just (as) importantly greatly enhancing our youth initiatives," Tracy said. "Our dialogue with the Baltimore Orioles and the Japanese major leagues will continue."
"This is the best youth and amateur sports funding mechanism in the southwest," said Mike Feder, executive director of the authority. "We hope the voters will see the major advantages, both economically and recreationally, of this legislation."
The broader approach makes sense. Swing the bat for spring training, yes, but kick the ball, shoot the basket, swim the freestyle and pedal the embankment, too.