Facility for D-backs, Rockies under way

Facility for D-backs, Rockies under way

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Under conditions that would have favored a pitcher, the D-backs and Rockies broke ground on a new Spring Training facility on Monday on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Native American Community land just west of the Loop 101 and north of Indian Bend Road.

It took a little imagination to picture what the 140-acre complex will look like when it's completed in approximately 436 days, but vision is something neither the Rockies nor D-backs seem to lack when it comes to the project.

D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall began his professional baseball front-office career in the Dodgers organization and said the facility will be the "Disneyland" of Spring Training complexes.

Prior to moving to Glendale, Ariz., last spring, the Dodgers trained in Vero Beach, Fla., where their facility provided fans unmatched access to players. This facility, he says, will do the same.

"Dodgertown was an extremely unique experience where fans would literally walk side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder with the fans," Hall said. "Feel the field, a lot of photographs, a lot of autographs, that's what we want to recreate here. That's what's missing in baseball today. It's going to be as fan-friendly an experience as you will find in the game. Great access to players, lot of interactivity, very up close to the action."

The teams will play one final spring season in Tucson, Ariz., before moving their operations to the new facility in 2011. On Monday, home plate was in the spot it will be in next year, and there were bases placed in their correct locations while bulldozers served as markers for where the outfield wall will be.

The Rockies and D-backs, rivals in the National League West, have not always been the best of friends on the field, but as the final teams left in Tucson following the White Sox's move to Glendale, last spring, they realized that if they were going to bring their spring operations to the Phoenix area it was going to be in a shared facility.

For the Rockies that means ending an affiliation with Tucson that began with their inaugural season in 1993. While Rockies team president Keli McGregor said his organization enjoyed its time in Tucson, more and more it saw its fans attending games when the team played in the Phoenix area, rather than at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson.

"This year, three teams here had their all-time attendance record when we were their opponent," McGregor said. "We see more and more of the retirement community from Denver going to games up here in the valley, rather than driving down to Tucson."

The D-backs have trained in Tucson since their inaugural season in 1998, but the travel up and back on the I-10 for games became a nuisance.

"I want our fans to spend each and every day that they can here," Hall said. "They don't have to travel to Tucson to see us, they don't have to go to other ballparks, they can come here. Whether it's days we have games or just workouts, they will come here and there will be something for them to do from morning until late afternoon."

The organization made it clear that it has no plans to abandon its fans in Tucson.

"We will do everything we can to make it easy and affordable for them to make the trip to Phoenix," Hall said. "We enjoyed our time down there and this is somewhat bittersweet for us."

The D-backs will use the facility year round for instructional league as well as having a place for injured players who are rehabbing to use. Currently the club uses its spring facilities in Tucson, but the new location is obviously preferable as it is less than 20 miles from the team's offices.

The Rockies will also use the facility as a base of operations, though the specific details are still being worked out.

"We've committed to drafting and development, and it's a year-round process, it's not just about Spring Training," McGregor said. "We will have rookie league opportunities, got development opportunities and instructional league in the fall. It opens all kinds of doors because we'll have access to competition that didn't have in Tucson."

The facility, the first to ever be built on Native American land, will feature a main stadium with a capacity of 11,000 -- 7,000 fixed seats and room for 4,000 on the grass berm. Each team will have a total of six practice fields, two practice infields, three bunting fields and 10 covered batting cages.

The Rockies will have a clubhouse located in the right-field corner, while the D-backs will have theirs in the left-field corner.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.