In honor of the fact that I’m leaving for Arizona tomorrow…
Since 2008 I’ve ventured to Arizona each spring to attend the Nine Journal of Baseball History and Culture Spring Training conference. The conference (now in Tempe) was still held in Tucson in 2009, the Indians’ first spring in Arizona. I decided to take the hour and a half car trip north to see the new Goodyear complex and my first Arizona Spring Training for the Tribe. I kept hearing rave reviews about Goodyear, and how improved it was over the complex in Winter Haven. I was excited to see it for myself.
Despite the claims that it’s beautiful and state of the art, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I’m sure if you’re a player, the difference is night and day as far as facilities, equipment, etc. is concerned. As far as I was concerned, it made me nostalgic for Winter Haven. What’s weird is that I can’t even quite put my finger on why it feels different to me, why I like it less. Is this just because my first Spring Training was spent in Winter Haven, that it was (for some odd reason) more “magical?”
I’ve now gone there every year since the complex opened, and while I don’t dislike it as much as I did in 2009, I still haven’t fully warmed to it. At least there are a few reasons I can list:
– It feels really sterile to me. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s in a desert environment, or just because the park itself is built in sort of a modern, minimalist design. It doesn’t have the warmth (and I don’t mean temperature) that I felt in Winter Haven.
– The practice fields are separate from the main stadium. The rest of the complex is about 3/4 of a mile away. While that’s obviously not that far (and ultimately not that big of a deal), I miss just being able to cruise around one immediate area. I’ve never even bothered to make the journey down to the other part of the complex; I usually just stick to the main stadium.
There are a few positives though:
– No flat metal bleachers, like the seats down the left field and right field lines in Winter Haven. I hated sitting on those bleachers on a hot sunny day; you could just feel your skin boiling. At least all of the seats in Goodyear are actual stadium seats.
– The capacity is much larger and it feels “roomier.” You can easily walk all around the park on nice, wide concourses. Most games that I’ve attended, attendance was pretty low as well. At one game in 2010, we were waiting outside of the ticket booths attempting to decide where we wanted to sit. While we were chatting, someone from the Goodyear complex approached us and offered us free seats right behind the Indians dugout…first row. They only thing we could figure – we were early to the game and it was supposed to be broadcast on STO that day. I guess they didn’t want the seats right behind the dugout to be empty on TV. Even a decent size crowd seems smaller than Winter Haven though, just because the capacity of Goodyear is so much greater.
– It’s pretty easy to get in and out of Goodyear; it seems like I sat in endless traffic jams around the park in Winter Haven.
– It’s neat that they share the complex with the Reds. The Ohio Cup is prominently displayed when you enter.
One of the other unique features of the ballpark in Goodyear, is the “Ziz.” That is the name of the interesting baseball-ish sculpture outside of the park’s entrance. (I even bought a miniature version of it that sits with my bobblehead collection).
The most horrifying development came last season, when I saw that they had turned the Ziz into a terrifying mascot named “Zizzy.” He’s not connected to the Indians or the Reds specifically, but is tied to the park itself.
Bob Feller also made the move to Goodyear, but was seated at a table right along the concourse instead of being tucked away.
After he passed away last season, I felt that it would be really sad to see that area of the concourse empty in the Spring of 2011. However, at least during the days that I was there, Gaylord Perry had taken his spot signing things for the fans.
Even though I may feel less enthusiastic about Goodyear, there’s still excitement over seeing baseball played on warm, green grass when the snow is flying in Cleveland. I’ll still be happy to walk through this gate next week and see the Tribe almost a month before they take the field in Cleveland.