Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Cubs to train in Florida? Come on

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The groups trying to lure the Cubs out of Arizona and to the Naples, Fla., area for spring training are continuing to push, with a press conference scheduled today.

But no matter how strong their bid looks at the end of the day, a move to Southwest Florida for the Cubs would be foolish.

The best training facilities and stadiums in recent years have been built in Arizona. The best spring training travel is in Arizona, with all but one of the 15 teams in Arizona soon to be clustered in the Phoenix metro area - compared to only two teams within an hour of the proposed Florida site.

And the Cubs also would be giving up their status as top draw - by far - in the Cactus League with a move to Florida, where they would at least second to the Yankees, if not third behind the Boston Red Sox.

Naturally, the 10 East Division teams train in Florida, along with Central Division teams located in the Eastern time zone, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

But just over the past half-dozen years, five teams have fled Florida for Arizona, including two from the Eastern Time Zone, Cleveland and Cincinnati (starting 2010). And every team from the West and Mountain zones, along with five of the eight Central time zone teams train there. The Phoenix area has made that big of a regional commitment to major league teams, and the advantages to the short trips and getting the most out of a training day are clear to many teams.

The Cubs can dream about Disneyland-type spring complexes and listen to golden offers all day long, but moving from Arizona would be a mistake. And the Cubs' baseball people don't want the hassles of Florida any more than the players want that 2 1/2-hour bus ride to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays in a meaningless game or that 3 1/2-hour bus ride to Viera for the Nationals.

In fact, if the Cubs were to actually uproot and move to Florida, you can count on Arizona and the Phoenix region redoubling their efforts to appease the rest of their spring teams - and likely result in luring another team or two away from Florida to fill the void.

Which might give a team like, say, the Cardinals, a shot at landing the next state-of-the art, luxurious, revenue-producing training site in Arizona.

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Some reasons why to consider Florida

First of all, let me say that I am biased when it comes to this question, as I am a Cubs fan, and I live in Naples, FL. Okay, now that were past that...I have to say that I found the blog very insightful as to why the Cubs shouldn't leave Arizona, with several valid points. However, I do believe there are many aspects that would be favorable for both the Cubs and fans to have Spring Training in Florida, and more exactly, Naples/Collier County.

First off, the Cubs already have a built-in fan base. I can't tell you how many people exactly are Chicago transplants that now live in the area...only that everytime I'm out and about at a mall, or grocery store with my Cubs hat on, I always run into other fans or get a "Go Cubbies" tossed my way. I have attended Cubs games in both St. Pete and Miami in the past couple of years...and at least half the fans in attendance (if not more) were cheering on the Cubs. In addition, two local radio stations became part of the Cubs radio network last season, and several restaurants/bars have begun catering to Cubs (and Bears) fans...advertising live broadcasts of games and Chicago style menus. This is a clear indication that the local business community recognizes (and capitalizes) on this growing base.

Secondly, Collier County has a higher per capita income rate ($31,200) average than Maricopa County ($22,500). This I would think, would be important to the new ownership, as fans here have more 'disposable' income to spend on entertainment/events. In addition, while still being the 'top draw' in the Cactus League, the Cubs suffered a fall off in attendance in 2009 of nearly 1,400 fans per game vs. 2008 figures. That fall off was fairly common amongst all MLB teams last season due to the downturn in the economy. But, The Naples/Collier County area would potentially 'shield' the Cubs from such shortfalls. With it's large base of financially secure "snowbirds", not only is there less chance of a fall off, there is probably an opportunity to charge a bit more on the ticket prices. (Not that I'm in favor of that...I'm just saying that it would have to be a consideration for the new owners, especially after paying a record amount for the ball club).

As far as your point regarding the proximity of clubs in Arizona versus Florida...I, as a total baseball fan would love that. But, not everyone considers that when planning a Spring Training trip. I think alot of travelers want plenty of options & entertainment choices when planning their trips. I'm quite sure that a typical family of four, would still plan trips to see the Cubs in Florida, whether it be in Collier County...or...perhaps a road game to see the Cubs play the Astros in Kissimmee...Dad then becomes the immediate hero of the family when he not only gets tickets to see the beloved Cubbies, but adds in a "side-trip" to Disney or Universal...a win for all! Or, maybe it's a couple of Cubs games in Collier County, and quick boat or plane ride to Key West for margueritas, maybe even a drive across "Alligator Alley" to famed South Beach for some of the hottest nightclubs in the USA. Whatever it may be, there is plenty to see and do for all who visit SWFL in the spring, and would not be a liability to the club. Oh, and by the way, the beaches of Naples have been consistently recognized as one of the best in the USA. Nearest beach to Mesa...almost 400 miles.

Finally, as far as the group that is behind the effort to entice the Cubs eastward...they seem to be confident that their bid will be given a legitimate looking over by the Cubs, and not 'used' as bait to extract more out of Mesa/State of Arizona. From what I understand, the plan would be to build a brand new facility, not only matching the look, feel and dimensions of Wrigley Field, but also to erect an entertainment/retail complex around that. With a similar facility being constructed for the Red Sox just to the north in Ft. Myers/Lee County...I'm quite sure that a new training camp for the Cubs would not only equal, but perhaps exceed that, and become the jewel of all Spring Training sites in either Florida or Arizona. I also don't think this group would do this for just any team (i.e Cleveland, Cincinnati or even the ChiSox etc. etc.) They are looking for a marquee team like the Red Sox or Yankees...and appear ready to present an offer that would be comparable to such status.

With that all said, I'm a realist. I know the chances of the Cubs uprooting from Arizona is probably a longshot...but hey, I'm a Cubs fan, and we've been living on hopes and dreams for over 100 years now. I just thought it was important to state the case for Naples/Collier County.

Thanks for your time, and Go Cubbies!

Good message by the fellow from Naples. But one of his points in favor of Naples is erroneous: the per capita income. I don't dispute the exact numbers he cites, and in fact I'm sure they're accurate.
Having said that, the Cubs don't depend on Maricopa County residents to attend their games, buy their merchandise and drink their beer. It's all about retirees, wealthy people and ordinary folks from the Midwest who are here part time and/or on vacation and have a lot more disposable income than the locals.

I just can't see the Cubs leaving AZ. They set attendance records every year here, have a huge influx of people who grew up in Chicago now living here and their departure would mean the end of the political careers for anyone involved in the negotiations.

I sort of wish they wouldn't toy with the City of Naples like this. Just work out a deal that's good for the Cubs and good for the community here and stop playing games.

Its really simple. AZ is a great getaway.
Florida blows.

I'd do a handstand naked in my front yard if the Cubs announced that they were moving to Florida! JUST DO IT!!!

Ricketts need to stop worrying about having new spring training. He needs to focus more on how to improve the area surrounding Wrigley Field. Join the conversation about the Clark & Addison hotel at Mywrigleyville com

"As far as your point regarding the proximity of clubs in Arizona versus Florida...I, as a total baseball fan would love that. But, not everyone considers that when planning a Spring Training trip."

Teams and players do, though. The Red Sox and Twins are up the road in Fort Myers. That's it. That's the list.

In the Valley, you can get to far, far, far more teams in a reasonable amount of time than you can from Naples. And, as spring training is a business for organizations, from a competitive standpoint, the managers and coaches don't want to be busing all over hell's half-acre for games. And you'll see stars opting out of the trips anywhere but Fort Myers - and that's bad for fans.

I'm sure Naples can come up with a sweet deal. I'm sure the Cubs will sell out and satisfy Crane Kenney and Company if they're in Naples. But it makes zero sense competitively to be figuratively on an island when just holding Mesa hostage for a new facility accomplishes ALL of their goals.

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