PHOENIX — What I've been led to believe will be the best stop of our spring swing has been saved for last: On Friday afternoon, I'll head to the new Salt River Fields for a game between the Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers and check out what $100 million buys these days.
But it turns out that others haven't had as much patience. Business has been booming at the Rockies' and Arizona Diamondbacks' new ballpark in Scottsdale and it's been so good that there is now speculation that it's hurting the turnstile counts for the other 13 teams that call the Cactus League home.
Attendance is up 74 percent for the Diamondbacks in their first nine home games through Sunday, and the Rockies have doubled the gate for their first eight games at Salt River Fields ... It appears that the home-team Diamondbacks and the new park have cut into the attendance so far at the other nine stadiums in the Cactus League. Ticket sales are off 9 percent to 33 percent at the other parks.
It stands to reason that the D'Backs moving into a valley home after training two hours away in Tucson would compel a lot of more local fans to attend their games instead of others. (Yes, even if they're a worst-in-the-Cactus League 5-15 so far.)
But there must also be other factors affecting an overall drop in league attendance that the Arizona Republic pegs at 12 percent. The Chicago Cubs, normally the valley's biggest draw, are down 29 percent at the ticket office. That would make sense given the team's performance the past couple of seasons. Fewer wins means less incentive to get on a plane and spend money in the Phoenix area.
Then again, on-the-field success appears to have little to do with the gate. The paper also notes that the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers — last year's two World Series teams — are down about 10 percent as well. The economy combined with high airfare prices, exorbitant rental car taxes in Maricopa County and regular-season-type ballpark prices surely have to bear some of the blame for the overall drop.
But that hasn't stopped local people from lining up to see their snakes. With Arizona drawing an average of over 10,000 people a game, team president Derrick Hall says the D'Backs are drawing 2,000 more people a game than they originally projected.