SBD/March 9, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Catching Up With Salt River Fields at Talking Stick GM David Dunne

Dunne previously ran Cubs' Spring Training operations at Hohokam Park
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the newest ballpark in the Cactus League, opened to overwhelming praise this year. Overseeing operations at the new home of the D'Backs and Rockies is ballpark GM DAVID DUNNE, who moved to Scottsdale from Mesa, Ariz., where he was the manager of the Cubs' Spring Training operations at Hohokam Stadium from '96-09.  The Chicago native recently took time to speak with Staff Writer William Cooper about what attracted him to Spring Training and what has changed over the years.

Thing you miss most about Chicago: In the summertime it is one of the best cities in the country. There's so much to do -- the museums, the parks, the events, the concerts.
Favorite outdoor activity in Arizona: I love riding my bike. I can ride my bike almost any day of the year here.
Morning must reads: The Diamondbacks and the Rockies' websites and feature stories. I pick up the news clips from each team and go through them. I check the Cactus League attendance pretty much every day.
Biggest difference between Florida and Arizona for Spring Training: The weather and travel.
Favorite Chicago baseball player of all time: RON SANTO.

Q: What is your favorite part about the Spring Training experience?
Dunne: I think the number one thing is the accessibility, the availability for the fans to interact with the players. Spring Training's always had that kind of a feel where you can get up close to the players and get up close to the action a little more than you might at a bigger, regular-season ballpark.

Q: What inspired you to work in baseball facilities, and in Spring Training in particular?
Dunne: I grew up in Chicago and grew up around Major League Baseball, going to the White Sox games at Comiskey, the Cubs games at Wrigley. I knew I always loved it. I always wanted to be a part of it somehow, someway. The Cactus League down here is like a mini-Major League Baseball market for six to eight weeks and there's also the Arizona Fall League, so there's baseball 10 or 11 months out of the year down here. I just always thought if you could get somewhere where the weather is great like it is here and they have baseball almost year round that would be a perfect fit. I remember when I was a little kid growing up in Chicago, WGN used to show a special from Spring Training every year. ... I remember turning on the TV and watching the special from Mesa, Arizona. The sun was out, the palm trees, the green grass, and I look out my front window and there was a couple feet of snow in the yard and it was a grey day. I thought as a little kid, "I've got to find a way to get down there and do that."

Q: How much of your year is typically spent on Spring Training-related issues versus other ballpark ventures?
: We do get away from the main focus of Spring Training for quite a while, but we'll spend a couple days a week talking about ticket plans, what should we adjust, what should we do and getting collateral materials ready. But we really don't kick into gear like that until late August, September, and once the Spring Training schedule comes out usually in November we'll start keying on the schedule, getting that out to people. There's kind of a long break, but it's never totally out of sight because it is the anchor of what we do.

: Do you suffer from a letdown once Spring Training is over?
: There's always mixed feelings. You're kind of glad you got through it and it went well, but you miss it. It's like when the circus comes to town and then it leaves (laughs). Here with two teams we have 33 games in 32 days, so it's like a 33-game homestand. There's not a day off, everybody's up and running. So when it does end, everybody will have some relief, you can get back to a little bit more of a normal life. But there is nothing like when the major league teams are here. You definitely do miss it.

: What are some of the major differences between starting at Salt River Fields and starting at Hohokam back in the mid '90s?
: These facilities just keep ramping up. In 1997 when (Hohokam) opened, that was the crown jewel of the Cactus League. And then you come here and you see this facility and it's just mind blowing. Each clubhouse is 85,000 square feet, and in '97 nobody ever thought that would happen. But you look at how each team uses it, and it's used very well, it's planned out. Here we are a decade and a half later, and it's almost mind blowing the progress, how much this is ramped up.
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