Baseball is a national pasttime that Americans have enjoyed for generations. But in Phoenix, it's more than just a cherished sport - it's big business. That's because Phoenix is the home of the Cactus League, one of two off-season leagues for major league teams.
The mild winters temperatures and lack of snow made Phoenix an ideal location for spring training teams, particularly from colder Midwestern cities like Chicago and Milwaukee.
The first team to ever conduct spring training in Phoenix was the Detroit Tigers in 1929. The Chicago Cubs trained in Mesa from 1979 to 1996, and the Seattle Mariners trained in Tempe from 1977 through 1993. For a long time, Spring Training was a cottage industry that only attracted the most die-hard baseball fans.
I'm not sure exactly when it happened or why it happened, but sometime in the last 20 years, the Spring Training industry exploded into a massive multi-million dollar industrial complex.
Between 1995 and 2015, eight new baseball stadiums were built and two more were remodeled, at a combined cost of over $500 million dollars. One stadium in particular, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, cost over $100 million to build.
These new stadiums have enticed Cactus League teams to move here from other states. The Kanas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, and Cleveland Indians are now among the 15 teams that come to Arizona for Spring Training.
As a result, the popularity of spring training baseball in Phoenix has reached a fever pitch. This once quiet industry drew more than 1.59 million spectators in 2009 and has generated more than $300 million a year in economic impact, according to the Arizona Republic.
To cite some examples of the craziness surrounding spring training, people are now scalping tickets for these games on websites such as Craigslist and StubHub at prices that are not just higher than face value, but equal to the price of a major-league ticket!
I have also seen ads posted to Craigslist where people rent out their private homes for a week to out-of-town visitors who have traveled here to see a baseball game. And let's not forget, these are just the practice games!
I like baseball as much as the next guy, but I am afraid that this "baseball fever" cannot go on indefinitely. I think that 20 or 30 years from now, historians will look back at the late 2000s and 2010s as "boom years" for the sport, which will possibly result in another economic bubble bursting.