COLLIER COUNTY — Game on.
The Arizona town that has been the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs since the Truman Administration is stepping up its efforts in a fight to keep the team.
Some Southwest Florida residents are noticing, as Collier County considers pursuing the popular Cubs.
Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith expects to bring a delegation of heavy hitters from his state to Chicago next month to remind the team that “Arizona is their home in the winter and this is the best place for them to be,” he told the Arizona Republic on Tuesday.
Smith said he’s added Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, and possibly other lawmakers to a group that will meet with Cubs executives in September.
”The Cubs are not only a Mesa gem and asset, but a Cactus League and statewide gem and asset,” Smith told the Arizona Republic.
On Monday, Collier County’s Tourist Development Council asked its vice-chairman Murray Hendel to bring back more information next month on what it might take to attract the team for spring training.
Meanwhile, Hendel is paying attention to what Mesa is doing.
“Obviously it concerns us,” he said. “If they are going to start throwing money at the team and trying to keep them it’s going to make our task a little harder.”
He said he’s developing a plan for how he’ll gather the information he needs to bring back to the Tourist Development Council in September. The plan should be done within the next few days.
He’ll look for help from Lee County, which has successfully lured spring training teams.
“We want to get their package and follow their footsteps,” Hendel said.
Hendel brought the idea of luring the Cubs away from Mesa to the council after reading a column on it by David Moulton, who has been advocating the move to Naples. Moulton writes a column for the Daily News Sports section and at naplesnews.com.
Moulton isn’t surprised to see Mesa becoming more aggressive about keeping the team.
“It is to be expected,” he said. “No community is going to let the Cubs go without a fight.”
“Fort Myers was kicking and screaming to save the Red Sox too,” Moulton added.
To keep the Red Sox, Lee County commissioners in June agreed to spend $75 million for a new spring training stadium, just north of Southwest Florida International Airport. Since 1992, the Minnesota Twins have trained at the Lee County Sports Complex in South Fort Myers.
Moulton points out that Arizona has spent a lot of money to lure spring training teams from Florida over the past few years.
“(Arizona) may not have a whole lot of money to help save the Cubs,” he said. “That might be the ultimate irony there.”
Arizona has been winning the competition for spring training baseball dollars for the past decade, Moulton said.
“It has been a long time since a team left Arizona and came to Florida,” he said. “Maybe it’s time.”
The Cubs’ contract allows them to opt out and leave the city in 2012. The team has told Mesa it wants a better training setup and a better stadium with more seats.
See The Arizona Republic story at http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2009/08/26/20090826cubs0826.html.