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New Cubs facility should draw players and revenue

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 10:56 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — MESA, Ariz. — The Chicago Cubs will move into a new spring training facility next year with a 9,000-square-foot weight room, whirlpools, TVs galore in the clubhouse and iPod docking stations at every locker.

Thanks to a bold threat to move their spring home to Naples, Fla., if they didn’t get what they wanted from the city of Mesa, the Cubs will be living the high life with what they feel will be the best spring-training complex in the majors leagues.

Asked if the new digs will spoil the players, manager Dale Sveum replied Thursday: “No, everybody else has it. ... We’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak.”

Actually, it’s more like keeping up with the Henrys, as in principal Red Sox owner John Henry, the apparent role model of Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts.

From the spring-training complex to the proposed renovations of Wrigley Field to the concept of turning Sheffield Avenue into Yawkey Way on game days, the Cubs basically are trying to emulate the financial success of the Red Sox, hoping it also translates into a winner on the field.

That’s one reason why Ricketts hired Theo Epstein from the Red Sox. Epstein in turn acquired former Boston slugging prospect Anthony Rizzo.

It’s not entirely accurate to call the Cubs’ new spring-training home “The House That Theo Built,” but Epstein’s game plan of being an annual contender by 2015 is in sync with the move to the new site in 2014.

Sveum, who was given a tour of the construction site Wednesday, admitted that having better training facilities isn’t a panacea for the 104-year championship drought. So how much of a difference can a new complex make to victory totals?

“It’s not going to make you win,” he said. “It shouldn’t. But what happens is sometimes you sign free agents because you have your training in Arizona, and you’re training right off the (expressway) which is very accessible to the Ahwatukee (section of Phoenix) and the Scottsdale area (where many players live).

“When you walk into that complex (as a free agent), instead of going somewhere else you pick the Cubs for numerous reasons — because of Wrigley Field, and we have so many players who live in Arizona. That’s the way it can make you win — luring players when you get facilities like those things. Sometimes it can sway a big-name free agent.”

Of course, offering players wheelbarrows full of cash works fine too. The Rockies and Diamondbacks are the co-owners of the Cactus League’s most beautiful new complex, Salt River Field at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, but neither team has attracted any big-name free agents since moving from Tucson in 2011.

The revenues from the new facility, however, should help the Cubs keep their potential stars from leaving. They signed Starlin Castro to a seven-year, $60 million deal and Cuban prospect Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million deal.

Rizzo is likely to be offered a long-term deal down the road. But he said Thursday he’s in no hurry.

“It’s something that it’s on the back burner, way back there,” Rizzo said. “But the more I play and hopefully the more I develop, the more everything will take care of itself.”

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