SEATTLE -- Baseball's spring training, by its very nature, is a time of optimism and enthusiasm.
But this year, Arizona's Cactus League has even more bounce in its step than usual.
When pitchers and catchers begin reporting next month--including the Mariners in Peoria on Feb. 13 -- the league will have one more gleaming new stadium to unveil. It's one that Cactus League president Brad Curtis calls "a spectacular place ... a real gem."
The new $100 million ballpark, called Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, is located just east of Scottsdale. It will house the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, whose departure from Tucson leaves that city devoid of exhibition baseball for the first time since 1947 -- and ensures that all 15 Cactus League teams are congregated in the greater Phoenix area.
For the first time since 2003, both World Series teams from the previous season will train in Arizona--the champion San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, and the American League pennant-winning Texas Rangers in Surprise.
More good news for the Cactus League occurred in November, when voters in Mesa overwhelming approved funding of up to $99 million for a new spring-training stadium and practice facility for the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs, annually the most popular draw in Arizona, had been threatening to move to Naples, Fla., which would have been a huge blow to the Cactus League. But now they are ensured of staying long term and should have their new park, which is expected to include a "Wrigleyville" entertainment complex, by 2013 or 2014, Curtis said.
"It's great to be able to keep the Cubs here," Curtis said. "They make a big impact on spring training with their fan base. I really think it's good for everyone."
Against this backdrop of growth, the Mariners begin their 19th spring at the Peoria Sports Complex, which they share with the San Diego Padres.
"This is the time of year we start doing projects to freshen up an 18-year-old stadium," said Chris Easom, operations manager in Peoria. "It's still in great shape. A lot of people have a hard time believing it's in its 18th year."
Peoria's contract with the Mariners and Padres expires after the 2013 season. There are plans for upgrades to the facility in the ensuing years designed to entice the teams to re-up.
According to Mariners spokesman Randy Adamack, "We've had initial conversations (with Peoria) about the future, but nothing substantive to report. We like Peoria, we like the people and dealing with the city. It's a good situation."
Spring training brings $60 million in spending annually to Peoria, according to The Arizona Republic.
"I've talked to (Peoria officials), and they're working on a list with their teams of what they want in renovations or modifications," Ellis said. "That will continue. I'd imagine that by the time spring training is done, they'll have a pretty good list of what each team is interested in. It's a great stadium. I don't see any big issues."
Easom said there is some concern in Peoria that the arrival of the hometown Diamondbacks in the area will cut into their crowds for what traditionally is a big-drawing opponent.
"We don't know how big an effect it will have--hopefully, not huge," he said. "We can take a little hit, but we'd hate for a game that typically draws 10,000 to get cut in half. That would not be good. We really won't know until we get into the season and see how the sales are doing."
In recent years, Peoria has withstood increased competition from new ballparks in Surprise (which opened for the Rangers and Royals in 2005), and more recently from Goodyear (where the Indians moved from Florida in 2009, followed by the Reds last year), and Glendale (which has housed the Dodgers and White Sox since 2009).
"I think we felt it when Goodyear opened up, but I think we captured a lot of those fans back last year," Easom said. "I think any normal fans want to check out the new park, check out the new toy. But if they're treated well at the place they usually go, which we hope is the case here, odds are they'll come back."
Overall, Cactus League attendance last spring was more than 1.47 million, down 6.8 percent from the record 1.58 million fans who attended in 2009. Curtis said that Surprise officials are hoping for a 30-percent bump for Rangers games after their World Series run.
"The Giants are expecting big numbers as well," Curtis said. "Scottsdale is going to be a crazy place with the new teams, as well as the Giants."
Curtis acknowledged that there is some concern of over-saturation in greater Phoenix with the arrival of the Diamondback and Rockies from Tucson.
"All teams in the Valley are worried when two more teams come," he said. "It dilutes from what you have in your neighborhood; there are more places to choose from. But the good thing is, it brings more fans to the Valley, and that will help the Phoenix region."