Spring Training Says Goodbye To Hi Corbett

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The Colorado Rockies are leaving their spring home for greener pastures up the highway near Phoenix, Ariz. That will mean Hi Corbett Field will be without a spring training tenant for the first time in 64 years.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Hi Corbett Stadium is a little field in the middle of a city park in Tucson, Arizona. It's played host to Major League Baseball spring training every year since 1946, but its run comes to an end this week, and NPR's Ted Robbins will miss the games.

TED ROBBINS: Every spring since I moved to Tucson, I've made the five-minute drive, ridden my bike or walked to Hi Corbett Field.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBBINS: On this day, the Cleveland Indians are playing the Colorado Rockies.

Unidentified Man: Now batting for the Rockies, catcher, number 20, Chris Iannetta.

ROBBINS: A fitting match, because it was Cleveland which first showed up at Hi Corbett Field for spring training 63 years ago. The Indians left and the Rockies moved in in 1993. But 2010 is it for Hi Corbett. It's too small, too old and too far from other teams. The Rockies are moving north to Scottsdale. They'll share a new ballpark with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are also abandoning spring training in Tucson.

Ms. ANN FORSBERG(ph): I feel bad about this and I don't think we're going to get baseball back.

ROBBINS: Ann Forsberg is probably right. She's been watching games here for 19 years. This place is small. It seats fewer than 10,000, it's got hardly any shade. But, hey, I've paid as little as four bucks and as much as a whopping $17 to see Major League players in action. So close and so relaxed that a fan can walk around getting autographs even between innings.

Players and coaches, like Bob Apodaca, say they'll miss Hi Corbett too.

Mr. BOB APODACA (Pitching Coach, Colorado Rockies): There is a coziness about the ballpark and it's not those new stadiums that all look alike. It has its own identity.

ROBBINS: And if I tire of the game inside Hi Corbett, I can walk around back to the practice fields.

(Soundbite of bat hitting ball)

ROBBINS: Players here are trying to make minor league teams. The Tulsa Drillers, the Casper Ghosts, the Modesto Nuts. Friends and family cheer them on. Betty and Rip Van Winkle - that's his name - are down from rainy Oregon for their grandson Tyson Van Winkle.

Ms. BETTY VAN WINKLE: Okay. Come on, Tys. Come on, Tyson.

Mr. RIP VAN WINKLE: Good eye, Tys.

ROBBINS: Tyson Van Winkle's a catcher one year out of Gonzaga University trying to make the Arizona Diamondbacks' farm club in Visalia, California.

(Soundbite of bat hitting ball)

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. VAN WINKLE: Good work, Tys.

Ms. VAN WINKLE: Way to go, Tyson.

Mr. VAN WINKLE: Stroke that fastball, you bet.

ROBBINS: Van Winkle gets his first hit in a major league uniform. That's way more exciting than anything his grandparents could see inside the stadium. But this will soon be gone as well.

A lot of people in Tucson blame community leaders for not doing more to keep spring training here. But the facts are, players no longer want to spend two hours on a bus each way from Phoenix, and owners are getting amazing deals up there. The Chicago Cubs are about to get a new $80 million stadium to stay in Mesa, next to Phoenix.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ROBBINS: I've tried to take in a half dozen games each spring. I've even sat in the picnic area on the third base side and written stories on my laptop while watching a game. Probably shouldn't admit that. But this spring, I'm especially enjoying the privilege because it won't come again.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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