Chicago Cubs cut ribbon on new Mesa stadium

February 13, 2014
The Republic
Gary Nelson

With the snip of a ribbon, soul-rattling blues and promises of future on-field glory, the Chicago Cubs officially opened their new Mesa stadium.

The ceremony on the unseasonably warm morning of Feb. 12 kicked off a new era for the Cubs, for whom this will be their 50th spring in Mesa.

Cubs Park is the fourth city-built stadium to be used by the team here, and it’s built to last the course of the team’s 30-year lease and beyond. State-of-the art practice facilities next to the stadium are aimed at giving the team a competitive edge and ending its century-plus championship drought.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who stood at Mayor Scott Smith’s side at the state Capitol four years ago when the Cubs agreed to stay in Mesa if a new stadium could be financed, led off Wednesday’s parade of speakers just outside the 15,000-seat ballpark.

Brewer said her first reaction to the park was, “Holy cow!” — channeling the catch phrase of the Cubs’ legendary late broadcaster Harry Caray.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said the new training facilities will put his team on the path to its first championship since 1908.

“Cubs fans ... want a World Series championship,” Ricketts said. “I’m telling everyone today that this new facility brings us one step closer to playing meaningful baseball in October.”

Ricketts credited Smith for pulling the stadium deal together.

“Mayor, without you, this project doesn’t happen,” he said.

Theo Epstein, who built world championship teams as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, now holds that job for the Cubs.

“You’ve given us the best spring training facility in all of baseball,” Epstein said.

With the new facilities, he said, the Cubs will have “no more excuses” for not winning.

“If we can’t get better here, we can’t get better anywhere,” Epstein said, promising “to put that World Series flag on top of this complex to finish it off.”

Crane Kenney, president of the Cubs’ business operations, recounted the tough battle to keep the Cubs in Mesa.

That had been the team’s preference from the beginning, Kenney said, but in 2009, an offer from Florida business interests to build the team a stadium in Naples looked all but irresistible.

As one Arizona funding proposal after another struck out, Kenney said, Smith remained optimistic.

“We’ll find a way,” Smith would say.

The $99 million for baseball facilities and infrastructure eventually came from city-issued bonds that will be paid with money Mesa receives from selling land in Pinal County. The Cubs complex replaced Riverview Golf Course, which previously had been proposed as the site of a large resort that failed to nail down financing.

Smith told Wednesday’s crowd of several hundred people that obstacles to putting the stadium together at times had seemed insurmountable.

“The odds were stacked against us,” he said.

But, he continued, he had told the Cubs, “If you just give us a chance, this community will deliver. We don’t know how we’ll do it. People ask me, ‘What was your Plan B?’ I didn’t even have a Plan A at the time. We went through Plan A, B, C, D, and I don’t know when we quit counting, but we did it.

“And we did it the Mesa way. We did it as a community.”

He cited the November 2010 election in which the stadium won more than 60 percent approval across virtually every precinct in the city.

Councilman Dave Richins said critics of the stadium often ask him why Mesa built a stadium for “million-dollar baseball players.”

“We’re not,” Richins said. “We build stadiums for the fans. We build stadiums to watch million-dollar baseball players play.”

Several speakers paid tribute to Robert Brinton, the president of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau and former Cactus League president who died in 2011, crediting him for his tireless efforts to keep the Cubs in Mesa.

The only angst at Wednesday’s event was on the part of some Mesa officials pointing out that one of the two huge outfield billboards advertises a restaurant 1.6 miles to the west — in Tempe.

The stadium hosts its first game Feb. 27 when the Cubs host the Arizona Diamondbacks.