AS RECENTLY as 2002 Florida hosted twice as many baseball teams in spring training (20 to 10) as Arizona. But this year the Dodgers have left Vero Beach for Glendale and the Indians have bolted Winter Haven for Goodyear; after the Reds leave Sarasota next season to share the Indians' site, the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues will each have 15 members. Though Arizona lacks the coastal charm of Florida, the minimal rain there means managers can better plan their pitching schedules, the closer proximity of the spring training sites cuts down on bus travel, and—oh, yes—there's more public money to be had in the desert.
To build tourist destinations, Arizona municipalities are willing to invest. The Rangers and the Royals, who in 2003 left Florida to share the Surprise Recreation Campus, for example, didn't pay for their $48.3 million ballpark complex. According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, spring training injected $310 million into the economy in '07, up 54% in the five seasons since this Westward expansion began; about 57% of spring training fans come from out of state.
After studying spring training in 2000 the Florida Sports Foundation reported a $453 million boon from its 20 teams. "Obviously ... that's awfully important to us," says Governor Charlie Crist. Towns that have lost teams have sought to reuse the space. After Cincinnati left Plant City for Sarasota in 1997, for example, the fields were converted for softball; Plant City is now home to the International Softball Federation and various tournaments throughout the year.
Businesses in Winter Haven have suffered with the Indians' departure, but the city struck a deal to host RussMatt college baseball spring-break tournaments, which includes about 200 schools. Winter Haven hopes to recoup $16 million of the roughly $23 million the Indians brought in each year. In Florida, municipalities are being forced to learn what big league managers have long known: Spring is a time for new ideas.