The people of Phoenix don’t need to be handing out any more gifts to team owners

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If you missed it yesterday, the Arizona Diamondbacks are apparently seeking to get out of their lease for Chase Field over a decade ahead of schedule. Or a bit less than a decade in terms of when they are allowed to negotiate with other sites and cities about getting a new stadium.

The issue, at least as far as has been made public, is the Diamondbacks’ claim that the county is failing in its duty to keep cash reserves on hand which would fund capital improvements to upgrade the ballpark and that, because of this, there is a risk that the place will eventually fall behind others and no longer be “state of the art.” It’s not a bad argument on which to lead — and comes with the possibility of litigation to get out of the lease — but based on how other stadium situations have played out, it’s naive to take that at face value. There are likely other considerations at play as well such as location, amenities and how lucrative the place is for the club. If the Braves’ example has taught us anything it’s that, even with a relatively new park, there are always greener pastures in which to graze if you work hard enough to find them.

Whatever happens with this story going forward, it’s probably worth noting for the record that Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, its citizens and the tourists who visit there are already being soaked on various stadium taxes and plans, none of which seem to be working out that great for local governments or quasi-governmental authorities.

Currently there is protracted litigation going on between rental car agencies and the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority which manages the Arizona Cardinals’ gigantic stadium in Glendale. That monstrosity is funded and operated in part by a hefty rental car tax which last year was adjudged unconstitutional (Phoenix’s rental car taxes are among the highest in the nation). People who rent cars there are still paying the tax — the ruling is on appeal — but even with it the stadium authority loses money. Nearby, the city of Glendale has been taking an utter bath on Gila River Arena, where the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes play, leading to several years of maneuvering and threats between the city and the team. Taxpayers are being soaked in all of that too.

There are some places in the country that are starting to take a harder line against professional sports teams’ desire to obtain public financing of their ballparks and stadiums. Arizona has not been one of them. One would hope that, given what has gone on there already, given the terms of the Diamondbacks’ lease and given the extremely unrealistic nature of any threats the Dbacks could conceivably make about relocation, at least any time soon, that the county and its taxpayers don’t decide that giving them any more than they are already required to under the lease is a good idea.

Which is to say: if Derek Hall is right and the stadium authority is breaching its responsibilities with respect to Chase Field, the Dbacks should put up or shut up and sue.

Royals’ John Sherman optimistic about new ballpark, current team

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first thing that Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman thinks about when he wakes up each morning is how the club, stuck in what seems like an interminable rebuild, will play on that particular day.

Not where they will play four or five years down the road.

Yet given the modest expectations for a team that lost nearly 100 games a year ago, it makes sense many Royals fans are just as interested – quite possibly more so – in the plans for a downtown ballpark than whether infielder Bobby Witt Jr. can double down on his brilliant rookie season or pitcher Brady Singer can truly become a staff ace.

That’s why Sherman’s second thought probably moves to the downtown ballpark, too.

“This is a huge decision, and I look at it as maybe the most important decision we’ll make as long as we have the privilege of stewarding this team,” Sherman said before the Royals held a final workout Wednesday ahead of opening day. “I’m probably as anxious as you to get moving on that, but it’s a complicated process.”

The Royals have called Kauffman Stadium home since the sister to Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, opened 50 years ago next month.

And while most stadiums are replaced because they have become outdated, the unique, space-aged look of Kauffman Stadium – built during an era in which teams trended toward impersonal, multisport concrete donuts for their homes – remains beloved by Royals fans and visitors alike.

The problem is that despite numerous renovations over the years, the very concrete holding the ballpark together has begun to crumble in places. The cost simply to repair and maintain the ballpark has become prohibitive.

So with the decision essentially made for them to build an entirely new stadium, the Royals revealed plans to build an entire development in the same mold of The Battery Atlanta, where the Braves built Truist Park, and the Ballpark Village in St. Louis, where the new Busch Stadium is merely the centerpiece of a whole entertainment district.

No site has been secured, but several of the most promising are in downtown Kansas City, where the Power & Light District along with T-Mobile Center have spearheaded a successful era of urban renewal.

Sherman has said that private funds would cover the majority of the stadium cost and the entire village, each carrying a price tag of about $1 billion.

But if any public funding will be used, as it was to build and maintain Kauffman Stadium, then it would need to be voted upon, and the earliest that it could show up on a ballot would be August.

“You look at Atlanta, they took some raw ground – they started with 85 acres – and that has been a complete home run,” said Sherman, who purchased the Royals in August 2019, shortly before the pandemic wreaked havoc on team finances.

“This is one of the reasons we want to do this: That’s helped the Braves become more competitive,” Sherman said of the vast potential for increased revenue for one of the smallest-market teams in baseball. “They have locked up and extended the core of their future, and the Braves are in a great position from a baseball standpoint.”

So perhaps the first two thoughts Sherman has each day – about performance and the future – are one and the same.

When it comes to the team itself, the Royals were largely quiet throughout the winter, though that was by design.

Rather than spending heavily on free agents that might help them win a few more games, they decided to stay the course with a promising young roster in the hopes that the development of those players would yield better results.

In fact, Sherman said, the club has been discussing extensions for some of the Royals’ foundational pieces – presumably Witt, who was fourth in voting for AL rookie of the year, and Singer, who was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA last season.

“We’re having conversations about that as we speak,” Sherman said. “We have a number of young players that we’re trying to evaluate and we’re talking to their representatives about what might work.”

Just because the Royals’ roster largely looks the same, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The Royals fired longtime general manager Dayton Moore in September and moved J.J. Picollo to the role, then fired manager Mike Matheny in October and replaced him with longtime Indians and Rays coach Matt Quatraro.

Sherman said the new voices created a palpable energy in spring training that he hopes carries into the regular season.

“When we acquired the team, we had three primary objectives,” Sherman said. “One was to win more games; we’re working on that. The second was to secure the future; that’s what (the stadium) is. And the third was to do good in the community.

“But the first priority,” he said, “is really the on-field product. That’s what really lifts everything else up.”