Rangers and Arlington Working On Third Ballpark

Third? You ask. The Ballpark in Arlington was the first true ballpark in Texas. Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park not worthy of full MLB bonafides, right?

Arlington Stadium was an overstuffed minor league park, true. But it held up for 22 years in an era where ballparks were not as obscenely specced as they are today. Arlington Stadium was redone during the time of the cookie cutter stadia. It was a round bowl. A bare bones facility. It had no roof. There were no cantilevered decks, and the press box attracted the North Texas winds like a vacuum. It was odd and disproportional, yet I had a slight affinity for it when I saw the A’s play road games there. Perhaps that’s because I never had a chance watch a summer game there.

Arlington Stadium (photo by Mike Fitzpatrick)

In 1994 the Stadium was replaced by The Ballpark in Arlington (review), an early entrant in the new era of retro-classical ballparks. TBiA (now Globe Life Park) was built to hold 50,000 fans, a bunch of offices in center field, and the new standard of club seats and suites. What TBiA lacked was any kind of roof with an air conditioning system. A fixed roof was not really in the cards, and the only retractable roof at the time was at the hulking SkyDome, far too expensive for the $191 million budget. So to compensate, the Rangers built ultra large covered concourses with an open facade. It felt airy, and felt pretty good in April and sometimes September. July and August were punishingly brutal thanks to the humidity. George W. Bush, who was looking for a trophy to propel his burgeoning political career, didn’t have six years to wait until the retractable technology evolved to the point of affordability, as it did for the Astros. So TBiA was built, Dubya became governor, and the Rangers stayed in Arlington.

Recently, Rangers ownership, now changed twice, started looking for a more technologically modern home, citing the need for a retractable dome thanks to the heat and humidity problems. A dome over the top of TBiA was considered problematic because of the lack of a support structure (and infrastructure) to carry the roof’s load. Prominent Dallas interests quietly started talking up a ballpark within the city, perhaps close to American Airlines Center. Arlington pulled the rug out from Dallas by working with the Rangers on an eventual replacement for TBiA, even though eight years remained on the lease.

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What will be the price tag for improved climate control? A cool $1 billion, half of it charged to the citizens of Arlington via extensions of existing sales/hotel/car rental tax hikes. Arlington pols feel confident about the plan because they may pay off the debt at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium 10 years early. Sure, they’ll outfit the park with more restaurants, bars, club levels, different types of suite boxes, and custom bat/bear/doohickey booths. And there will be a huge fan plaza with retail and a hotel, finally giving the immediate area something else walkable from the park. That mini ballpark village will be called Texas Live!, located kitty corner from the current ballpark to the southwest.

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There are a few sobering takeaways from this whole exercise.

  • Public money makes a stadium project move faster. Once those coffers are open, stakeholders are willing to move heaven and earth to make these projects happen. This is the #1 reason why no stadium is happening in Oakland right now, why San Jose’s ballpark fizzled, and why the Earthquakes’ stadium was delayed. Owners and leagues want municipalities to have skin in the game or a pound of flesh, whatever you want to call it.
  • There is little virtue in paying off a stadium early. Just as AT&T Stadium is projected to be paid off early, Phoenix’s Chase Field had its debt retired early. For Phoenix, all that meant was that the Diamondbacks asked for a new ballpark earlier than planned. Same goes for the Rangers in Arlington. Considering how so many sports venues don’t pay for themselves, such moves take a lot of chutzpah.
  • The next wave of ballparks is here. Cobb County’s park for the Braves will open next year. The Rangers are shooting for 2021. Arizona is asking for their own smaller, more intimate park. Arte Moreno has been saber rattling Anaheim for years. Other teams will call for extensive renovation plans. This new era may not have the same wholesale turnover of venues as it did during the Selig era, but whatever happens promises to be very expensive, and for most teams, largely unnecessary.

Sometimes it feels like the world is passing the A’s by. This is no more clearly evident than in the stadium game. At least the Rays are here to keep us company.

Wrigley Field gets long-needed facelift

For the last several years the Cubs have adorned the façade of Wrigley Field with vinyl signs, as I witnessed firsthand in 2013. While they were bold and colorful, they distracted from the structure itself.

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Vinyl covered exterior seems loud, no?

Back then I wrote about the contrast:

Wrigley famously has very little façade. Behind home plate is the light gray concrete structure accented by green and the distinctive red marquee. It’s not brick or sandstone, and there’s little to write home about. At some point recently the Cubs decided to have huge vinyl signs of the players cover up much of the concrete, as many newer parks have done. As much as I appreciate the blast of color, I miss the old humble concrete. Along the first and third baselines are chain link fences, so the back of each deck is exposed to the street it faces.

As part of Wrigley’s multiyear renovation project, the vinyl and chain link have been torn away, replaced with elements that open up the space and hark back to Wrigley’s earlier pre-war state.

Now that’s better. Gone are the concrete board and cage-like chain link fences, replaced by much more ornate galvanized steel gates.

The terra cotta facade, better seen in the Chicago Tribune’s article on the makeover, is somewhat more controversial than the rest, since the material is not exactly in keeping with steel ballpark construction. However, it is a throwback to Wrigley during the 30’s. At scale, it’s applied only to provide a warm accent that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and certainly would be less effective with mere paint or another metallic surface. It makes Wrigley even more approachable, if that was even possible. Wrigley’s famed red marquee was reinstalled only two days ago, and it remains as hot as ever. I look forward to going back sometime soon, even just to admire the exterior.

P.S. – Note the amount of roster turnover signified by the players on the vinyl signs.

O.co tells it goodbye

After a five year run, internet retailer Overstock.com and the JPA are calling it quits on their naming rights deal at the Coliseum. The deal apparently was not terribly lucrative for either side. The JPA realized $2 million a year, making at best a slight dent in ongoing debt and operations costs. For Overstock, which more or less stopped using O.co in the US, the name was more a source of confusion and mild derision than revenue growth. Here’s how confusing the name situation was and still is:

Why is Overstock.com known as O.co internationally?

Over the last few years, Overstock.com has expanded to countries all over the world. However, we discovered that “overstock” doesn’t always translate well. To minimize the confusion created by translating the word “overstock” into other languages, we decided to use O.co for our international sites.

So many welps. At least Overstock has found some success partnering with the A’s, so their partnership will continue. As for the stadium, I and most everyone I knew called it the Coliseum. Just as we didn’t call it the Network Associates Coliseum or McAfee Coliseum (or even UMAX Coliseum), we didn’t use O.co and probably won’t use any future name either. I can’t blame the JPA for trying to get some revenue out of this, but they can’t blame the fans for holding on to the edifice’s rightful, classical name. Even the downright bureaucratic sounding “Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum” has its own air, or at least Chris Berman thinks so.

Frankly, when you go through so many names, it’s probably time for a new ballpark.

 

Entering 12

And just to cheer everyone in the East Bay up, there’s this:

storya-4689

Why won’t I acknowledge #11, or the 11th anniversary? Umm…

parker11

Pffft.

Do not be surprised when teams withhold rent as part of lease talks

The Merc reports that the 49ers have withheld more than $5 million in rent from the City of Santa Clara.

Yawn.

The team is due a rent “reset” that could eventually lower its annual payments from $24.5 million, a figure that includes operating costs. The 49ers like to claim that it’s the highest rent in pro sports, though most leases don’t include operating costs, usually an eight-figure item on their own. Even with those costs removed, it’s still a pretty high rent payment. That doesn’t mean anyone should be sympathetic to the Yorks. Forbes had the team’s revenue and operating income for the 2014 season at $427 million and $123.7 million, respectively.

levis_stadium-36-view_midfield

The 49ers believe the rent on this place is “too damn high”

That said, the system, and the very nature of these lease agreements puts teams in a negotiating advantage from jump. If a lease is about to expire, or if there’s a clause that allows for renegotiation, chances are the team is going to take advantage of it. Let history be a guide.

  • A year ago the Raiders withheld rent as they talked 2015 lease with the Coliseum JPA. The lease ended up being for only one year.
  • The A’s famously had a lengthy brouhaha with the GPA over shorted parking revenue that eventually spilled over into lease talks. After Oakland played hardball with the A’s, then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig pulled the move threat card and Oakland backed down.
  • During the Chris Cohan era, the JPA sued the Warriors three times over breach of contract, ending in settlement.
  • The Giants owned the AT&T Park structure, so their lease with SF was for land, a nominal fee. That didn’t stop the Giants from arguing over property taxes, eventually going to court over the matter.

All of that happened since the turn of the millennium.

In a more charitable world, teams and their incredibly wealthy owners would hold to their contracts, instead not even waiting for the ink to dry. That’s not the world we live in. So we can grouse more about certain owners we disdain as opposed to others we hold in higher regard. It doesn’t matter. This is how teams operate. Since these facilities have such huge mortgages and most of them are publicly owned, it’s the municipalities that get the worst of it. Exactly what can the cities do, anyway? Evict the teams? Cities can and should fight for what they can, but remember that in the end, they’re not supposed to be the winners. The teams are. The deck is stacked against the public.

2016 Cactus League – Few Changes In Store

It nearly hit 90° in the Valley of the Sun this week, so you know that spring training is rapidly approaching. Pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park today, though many of them and the position players have already been working out in preparation for the season.

The A’s haven’t announced any changes to Hohokam, the renovated stadium they moved into a year ago after decades at Phoenix Muni. Most of the big-ticket items were taken care of the first go-around. It’s a spacious, comfortable place to watch and should remain so for years to come. The biggest change I know of is not the facility but rather a new way to get to it, or at least close to it. Valley Metro finished the first phase of its Mesa extension last August, stretching to Central (downtown) Mesa. The station at Main Street and Center Street is the closest to Hohokam, 1.7 miles directly south of the stadium.

1.7 miles from the Center & Main light rail station to Hohokam

1.7 miles from the Center & Main light rail station to Hohokam

That distance is probably a bit too long to walk for most. Credit to those who do. Alternately, Mesa’s Downtown BUZZ free shuttle operates Monday through Saturday between Main Street and Brown Road, the major street just to the south of Hohokam. BUZZ runs all the way out to the Cubs’ Sloan Park if you’re interested. There’s also Valley Metro Bus 120 ($2 ride), which runs on Mesa Drive and Brown Road, stopping south of Hohokam. Pedicab would be a good option if it were available. And remember, if you go early you can visit Fitch Park along the way in the morning, catch a couple workouts, then head over for the 1 PM first pitch.

Speaking of Fitch Park, the City of Mesa announced that it renamed the unfortunately monikered “East 6th Place” at Fitch to “Athletics Way.”

The “Dead End” sign has to stay because it’s factual.

One difference for the A’s is the addition of two night games:

  • Monday, March 14, 7 PM – Giants
  • Thursday, March 24, 7 PM – Rangers

For those two you’ll have to drive/cab/rideshare.

For those driving everywhere or taking Uber/lyft to ballparks, there aren’t many changes of note. There are no new ballparks to speak of. There probably won’t be one until the Brewers decide to leave Maryvale.

Scottsdale Stadium is getting a new scoreboard. The new LED board is sized 24′ x 40′. That’s not as large as Hohokam’s jumbo 26′ x 56′, but it’s still a massive improvement over the old traditional scoreboard/postage stamp video combo.

Map of Cactus League parks from Royals Review

Map of Cactus League parks from Royals Review

If you’re touristing down to Arizona to catch a weekend’s worth of games or longer, chances are that you’re staying in one of four places:

  • near Sky Harbor Airport (PHX)
  • Old Town or South Scottsdale
  • Tempe
  • Central Phoenix (downtown)

All four of those locations are fairly close to the eastern bunch of Cactus League parks (Salt River Fields, Scottsdale, Tempe Diablo, Hohokam, Sloan). The five West Valley parks (Maryvale, Camelback Ranch, Surprise, Peoria, Goodyear) are a good 15-25 miles away from the preferred cluster of hotels. You shouldn’t stay in the West Valley unless you intend to spend most of your time at one of the facilities or you’re staying with family in, say, Glendale or Peoria.

If you’re getting around the Phoenix area, it’s best to look at just the area as basically two freeway loops. The largest is constituted by I-10 to the south and Loop-101 acting as the west, north, and east perimeter, about 15 mile x 20 mile rectangle. Camelback and Peoria are close to the west segment of Loop-101, while Surprise is way out beyond, and Goodyear is on the way out to LA. The Maryvale neighborhood is somewhat sketchy, though it shouldn’t matter since the Brewers’ home schedule is all day games. Meanwhile, the east cluster is nice and compact, with all ballparks within roughly 5-10 miles of each other. The other freeway loop is Loop 202, which covers a 10 mile x 20 mile section known as the East Valley, including Mesa, Chandler, and Gilbert. I-17 runs north to Flagstaff, whereas US-60 comes from the northwest, merges with I-10, then heads east towards New Mexico. The funny thing about driving around Phoenix is that even though the area is much smaller than the Bay Area, I find that I’m less tolerant of driving long distances. Maybe that’s because I’m conditioned to driving longer distances in the Bay Area, and there are more freeways to handle those distances. It may also be Phoenix’s monotonously endless street grid. Either way I’m surprised at how the landscape affects me as a driver.

If you’re planning a trip to the Cactus League and you have questions, drop a note in the comments. I’ll be happy to answer whatever I can.

Wolff responds to Davis comments

The A’s just put out a press release:

Oakland Athletics Owner and Managing Partner Lew Wolff has issued the following statement about recent comments made by Oakland Raiders Owner Mark Davis:
“It is unfortunate Mr. Davis decided to bring the A’s into his discussion about the Raiders’ stadium lease. We respect his right to explore his options in and out of Oakland, including his widely reported consideration of Los Angeles and other markets. The A’s signed a 10-year lease at the Coliseum because we are committed to Oakland. Mr. Davis has said he is fully committed to do a new football stadium in Oakland and there is nothing in our lease that precludes Mr. Davis and the Raiders from building on the Coliseum site. As we stated yesterday, the A’s are aggressively working with the city to evaluate venue sites in Oakland. Our efforts are fully focused on Oakland. Although the Coliseum remains the main focus of our venue efforts, we are also evaluating potential sites throughout Oakland. We are confident our efforts will continue to move forward and we will share our progress throughout the process.”