The D'Backs and Rockies Saturday opened their new Spring Training ballpark, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, with a game against each other that featured the "pomp and circumstance usually reserved for a regular-season opener," according to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com. The two teams "share the facility, which is the first Spring Training stadium to be built on Native American land." Designed by HKS Sports & Entertainment, the ballpark "features the largest high-definition scoreboard of any Spring Training facility." Fans "have access to the practice fields that surround the stadium, and raised walkways allow them to watch hitters take batting practice in the cages and pitchers throw their bullpen sessions." Rockies Exec VP & COO Greg Feasel: "There's no other facility like that. It's very unique." The ballpark "has 7,000 fixed seats and space for an additional 4,000 fans on the grass berms beyond the outfield fences, though Saturday's attendance was announced at 12,514." D'Backs President & CEO Derrick Hall: "We know that the facility is beautiful, but when you're going to be sold out on your first day, you want everything to go just right. I worry because I want everybody to walk away with a positive experience." Gilbert noted MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was among those in attendance for Saturday's game. There also was a "video tribute" to late Rockies President Keli McGregor. The facility includes the Keli McGregor Reflective Path, which "winds its way around the complex" (MLB.com, 2/26).
JEWEL IN THE DESERT: In Denver, Jim Armstrong wrote Salt River Fields at Talking Stick "isn't just a pretty face with a preposition," and it "isn't just a state-of-the-art baseball facility, either." Armstrong: "The Rockies have joined the 21st century, thanks to a seemingly bottomless vault of cash fueled by the casino at the Talking Stick Resort." The Maricopa and Pima tribes spent approximately $130-170M on the facility, and the "sheer opulence and attention to detail are almost comical" (DENVER POST, 2/27). SI.com's Tom Verducci wrote the facility "redefines state of the art by leaps and bounds." Verducci: "Nothing else comes close to Salt River Fields when it comes to design, functionality, resources, luxuries and sheer size" (SI.com, 2/25). YAHOO SPORTS' David Brown wrote Salt River Fields "appears to be worth every bit of the $130 million it cost to build." It "already has been referred to as the 'Ninth Wonder of the World,' a 'modern marvel' and the 'Versailles of spring training facilities.'" D'Backs P Clay Zavada: "This place is frickin' unreal. It's better than a lot of big league places, you know? The quality of the playing field's even pretty nice. This has everything. They give you everything here" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/27). In Phoenix, Scott Bordow wrote under the header, "Salt River Fields Lives Up To Billing" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 2/27).
The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission on Friday selected Birdair Inc. to replace the Metrodome roof, and the New York-based company "believes it can get it done by Aug. 1," according to Dave Orrick of the ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS. MSFC officials said that the $17.9M proposal from Birdair, which "installed the original roof" at the Metrodome, "should allow for safety inspections and issuances of building certificates in time for kickoff on the NFL's first full Sunday of preseason games Aug. 14." Work on the renovation "could begin as early as March 17 and is likely to require at least 10-hour days from workers, Monday through Saturday." MSFC officials cautioned that "weather could foil the plan." MSFC Exec Dir Bill Lester: "There's no cushion in this schedule." If Birdair completes the project by Aug. 1, it will receive a $500,000 bonus. If the company fails, "there will be penalties that will vary, such as $20,000 per day and $700,000 for each missed Vikings home game." The team has "asked the NFL to schedule its first several games on the road, just in case." In the end, the MSFC "expects the total cost of the Dome's debacle to approach $25 million, when all the costs of stabilizing and assessing the massive quilt-like roof are accounted for." The "life expectancy of the new roof is expected to be more than 20 years" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 2/26). MSFC officials said that the Metrodome's new roof "will have a flatter profile and light brown panels that will bleach to white over time." The new panels "will be made of a fiberglass material very similar to the old ones." But MSFC Dir of Facilities & Engineering Steve Maki noted that "one difference fans will notice" is that an "inner liner will not be replaced in the roof's central area, so the interior of the Dome will be brighter" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/26).
In Cincinnati, Bill Koch reported the Univ. of Cincinnati will play two Big East football games next season at 65,535-seat Paul Brown Stadium “instead of at UC’s on-campus Nippert Stadium, which seats 35,000.” UC AD Mike Thomas said, “The decision was based on the hope and expectation that the kind of crowd that we would draw for those two games would exceed the capacity of what we have at Nippert Stadium.” Thomas said that UC’s decision to play two conference games at Paul Brown Stadium “does not necessarily mean the Bearcats are moving toward playing all their home games there,” nor does “it rule out the prospect of renovating Nippert Stadium” (CINCINNATI.com, 2/25).
BAD TIMING: In Miami, Douglas Hanks notes the timing of a possible NFL lockout “carries special implications for the Dolphins.” The team is “in the midst of a public and political effort to pass a state bill allowing Broward and Miami-Dade to raise hotel taxes to partially enclose” Sun Life Stadium and “add high-tech lighting and 3,000 seats near the field.” Florida’s legislative session begins March 8 and ends two months later, meaning lawmakers “could be considering the Dolphins bill in the midst of a season shutdown” (MIAMI HERALD, 2/28).
PLAYING THE WAITING GAME:In California, David Garrick reports Escondido County officials “have postponed indefinitely” a vote on a $50M minor league ballpark development agreement with Padres Vice Chair & CEO Jeff Moorad for the Triple-A Tucson Padres. California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a bill that would “abolish redevelopment revenue.” Still, City Manager Clay Phillips and Moorad adviser Steve Peace said that both sides “remain fully committed to the ballpark, and that a short delay based on relatively minor issues would not jeopardize plans to begin constructing the ballpark in January 2012 and have it open in April 2013.” But Phillips and Peace acknowledged that the ballpark deal “would essentially be dead if redevelopment revenue goes away” (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 2/26).
RETIRE ALREADY: A SEATTLE TIMES editorial notes a bill in the Washington state legislature “aims to continue” Safeco Field taxes to pay for “arts, culture, work-force housing, tourism projects and expanding the Washington State Convention & Trade Center.” The 0.5% restaurant sales tax “dedicated to paying off the bonds on Safeco Field is expected to expire later this year -- four years ahead of schedule.” The editorial: “The citizens paying the taxes were told the tax would expire. Continuing these taxes in any economic climate is bad faith, but more troubling in the current one” (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/28).