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Tucson makes another run at spring training — but will MLB bite?

A Tucson lawmaker is asking the Arizona Legislature to approve sales-tax hikes for new spring-training facilities. But if voters approve, will any MLB team be interested?
You’ve got to give Rep. Vic Williams, a Republican from Tucson, points for persistance in the face of overwhelming odds.

Williams is the legislator working to keep spring training in baseball by introducing a bill allowing Pima County to raise sales taxes on a variety of transactions — car rentals, entertainment, bars, restaurants — to pay for new spring-training facilities. Voters would need to approve the sales-tax hikes.

The goal, says Williams, is to bring more teams to Tucson for spring training. Never mind the fact that Tucson is virtually certain to lose its two remaining spring teams — the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks — as soon as 2011, if what we are hearing is correct. The money, Williams says, would be used to lure teams from Phoenix and Florida.

It’s a quixotic attempt by Williams, to be sure. The thing most people forget about spring training is that MLB likes to organize teams in clumps of four. The biggest challenge this spring for the Diamondbacks and Rockies has been to set up games for their minor-league teams, with AAA and AA teams playing in rotation with the A teams. With only two teams, the Tucson teams will send buses to Phoenix most days for scrimmages.

So even if Williams manages to persuade the Arizona Legislature to allow Pima County to control its sales-tax destiny (a mighty big if; Arizona legislators don’t seem too interested in raising taxes at this stage in our nation’s economy) and if Pima County voters approve the raises (again, a mighty big if), there may be little interest among MLB teams to move to Tucson. Really, the chance for Tucson and Pima County to land more spring-training teams has passed.

And we’re not entirely sure losing spring training wouldn’t be the worst thing for Tucson. True, there’s prestige in hosting MLB baseball in the spring. But when the White Sox moved operations to Phoenix, a youth-baseball organization jumped in and pledged to fill the Tucson Electric Park void. In this case, we’re talking about real families spending real dollars far beyond the traditional spring-training season. And for the area businesses relying on those business, those real dollars pay the bills.