New Cubs Park Brings A Bit Of Chicago To Mesa

January 23, 2014

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
One of the several scoreboards at Cubs Park in Mesa.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
Cubs Park in Mesa has light standards similar to those at Wrigley Field.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
View of the third base seats from the deck area at the Cubs Park.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
Chicagoans Tom and Sissie Sappanos are returning to Mesa in March for a spring training game at the new Cubs Park.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
Justin Piper is the Cubs general manager of Spring Training Business Operations.

The Chicago Cubs' new Spring Training complex is ready for its first public viewing. Fans are invited to attend an open house for the Mesa ballpark on Saturday. The new stadium has a bit of Wrigley Field flair.

Spring Training games don’t officially start until late February, but Tom Sappanos and his wife Sissie have just made a spontaneous purchase of infield box seats.

The Chicagoans are in town on business and took a break to see what the new training complex looks like. They were surprised to find tickets were already on sale.  

"We’re planning to come back out here and we’re doing it via the tickets. So, this is basically forcing us to plan a vacation," Tom Sappanos said.

The Sappanos are among a handful of people who came to the ballpark early to get a glimpse of it through closed wrought iron gates. Tom Sappanos says it looks like a desert version of home.    

“It’s got the beautiful vistas of the desert area and then it’s got a little reminiscent of Wrigley Field. Look at the metal work and the green color, it’s a little piece of heaven on Earth," he said.

There isn’t the iconic ivy in the outfield, but there is a brick wall behind home plate similar to the one in Chicago, as well as the light standards that soar over the park.

Justin Piper runs the team’s spring training business operations.

"There's a number of other elements," Piper said. "The cantilever roof deck, the berm that is the lawn outfield seating and the high center field piece of it is reminiscent of the bleachers at Wrigley Field.”    

The old Hohokam Park was home to the Cubs' Spring Training camp for nearly 25 years. Piper says the organization outgrew it. The city of Mesa and the Cubs franchise agreed on a location to build a new camp near the Red Mountain 202 and Loop 101 as part of the Riverview Complex.

This newly built site has the amenities the Cubs were looking for, including a player development center that’s adjacent to the ballpark. Fans are now able to hang out for pre-game practices and then walk about 200 yards to the stadium.

“It’s gonna be a chance for fans to get up-close and personal to the Cubs players. Part of the Cactus League is that interaction and we’ve created this area where before and after the games the fans will be able to see their players as they make their way to the ballpark," Piper said.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith led the Keep the Cubs campaign in 2010. He said that Spring Training is big business in Mesa, and in Arizona. To build this complex he convinced the taxpayers to approve the use of nearly $100 million in public funds. Despite some opposition, 64 percent of voters favored the plan.

“This activity we call baseball in March brings in well over $130, $140 million dollars directly into our economy every year. That’s significant," Smith said.

Smith says that, coupled with preserving a 50-year tradition with the Chicago Cubs in Arizona, was what convinced the taxpayers.  

"We also preserved a great cultural and social driver. I think we sometime discount those institutions, those social and cultural institutions that really help make up a community," Smith said.

Cubs officials say their park now holds more fans than any other Cactus League stadium — 15,000 people. The Sappanos from Chicago say they’ll be among those in attendance this spring. Their next vacation is planned around a marquee game — a cross-town rivalry with the Chicago White Sox on March 27.