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02/15/12 2:50 PM EST
Brewers nearing end of Maryvale lease
Club seeking improvements, expansions at Phoenix home
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- Bernie Brewer, the mustachioed mascot, has been tweeting a countdown to Spring Training. On Wednesday, it was down to three days before Brewers pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale Baseball Park. Will it be the last time? The Brewers' lease at Maryvale, their sprawling spring home on the west side of Phoenix, will expire in April unless the team exercises the first of its three, two-year options or strikes a deal with City of Phoenix officials for a new long-term agreement. The Brewers are seeking improvements and expansions to the complex's clubhouses, athletic training facilities and offices, and will meet with city officials in March to begin negotiations. Brewers executive vice president of finance and administration Bob Quinn said the club's preference is to remain at Maryvale Baseball Park, which has served as the Brewers' spring home and a year-round training facility since it opened in 1998. But the Brewers have also been hearing from representatives for other existing or proposed venues, including in Florida's Grapefruit League. Quinn said reports linking the Brewers to sites in Florida have been overstated, but for now, the club is open to all options. "Anybody who calls, we'll listen and see how real something is," Quinn said. "We'll do that in Florida, and we'll do that in Arizona. But has it gotten any traction? No." The Arizona Republic reported in September that the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority has $46 million earmarked for renovations at five existing stadiums over the next 10 years, and that the Brewers were "first in line" for $6.7 million for Maryvale. The Brewers are content with the complex's main stadium, with over 7,000 seats and a grass berm for another 4,000 fans, and they are happy to have five full-sized practice fields and two infields all on-site, unlike teams like the Giants and A's, who play Cactus League games at a stadium separate from their training facilities. Brewers officials believe those plusses outweigh the most common criticism of Maryvale Baseball Park, it's location in a hardscrabble part of Phoenix. But newer facilities in Scottsdale, Ariz. (D-backs and Rockies), Goodyear (Indians and Reds), Glendale (Dodgers and White Sox) and Surprise (Rangers and Royals) have rendered other facets of Maryvale Baseball Park outdated, Quinn said. At the top of the Brewers' wish list is an expanded athletic training facility and weight room, which is so small that players work out in shifts and are forced to either an adjacent hallway or outside for flexibility and agility exercises. The Brewers also want to expand their offices, which have become overcrowded as the front office has grown in recent years, and want to relieve overcrowding in the Minor League clubhouse. It sits across a parking lot from the Major League building. Quinn said those requests date to 2004, when principal owner Mark Attanasio was exploring his purchase of the team. A new standard for Spring Training accommodations was set by Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the new spring home of the D-backs and Rockies that opened last spring to rave reviews. It reportedly cost more than $100 million to build and was funded entirely by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. "I know that we are not going to be able to do anything like that, nor are we requesting it," Quinn said. "We're not trying to go to extremes." The Brewers had discussions with City of Phoenix officials last summer and intended to continue in the fall, but then the team made its run to the postseason and Phoenix elected a new mayor -- Greg Stanton -- prompting talks to be tabled. Quinn said the sides agreed to hold more formal conversations until a time they can meet in person. The first of those meetings has yet to be scheduled. Because all of the proposed renovations could be completed between the end of one Spring Training and the start of the next, Quinn said the timetable is "not a stress point for us." If the city commits to renovations, it would probably require the Brewers to sign a new long-term lease. The Brewers and city officials have had some general discussions along those lines, Quinn said, but have yet to begin a "hard negotiation." "Depending on the extent of those renovations, it's fair that the other side would be looking for some type of commitment," he said. The alternative is that the Brewers find a new spring home. They have been linked to Florida, though Arizona's proximity to Attanasio's base in Los Angeles would seem to give the Cactus League a big advantage. They could explore HoHoKam Park across town in Mesa, Ariz., which is scheduled to be vacant beginning in 2014 when the Cubs move to a new facility approved in October, or to Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which would be vacant if the A's, whose lease also expires in 2012, make a move. The A's are in an exclusive negotiating period with HoHoKam that runs through May. But there's a major drawback at both HoHoKam Park and Phoenix Municipal Stadium: They are separate from the teams' training facilities. It appears Brewers officials prefer the all-in-one arrangement at Maryvale. One popular rumor has the Brewers joining with the A's or a current Grapefruit League team for a new complex to be built on a Native American reservation. The Arizona Republic reported that officials from the Gila River community had shown past interest in Cactus League development. That community operates three casinos just south of Phoenix, including a large facility along Interstate 10 in Chandler, only a few miles from the Brewers' Spring Training home from 1986-97. Quinn declined to address specific destinations but said the Brewers have retained a consultant to help navigate the various Arizona options. "The focus right not is to get together with Phoenix [city officials] when we get down there," Quinn said. "I think that's the primary focus -- get in a room come March and see where we're at."