The facility, now serving as the home of the Pacific Coast League Padres, boasts a view of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north, the Santa Rita Mountains to the south, the Rincon Mountains to the east and the Tucson Mountains to the west.
The Santa Catalinas lay beyond the outfield fence, creating one of the most scenic backdrops in all of Minor League Baseball. With most games played at night in order to avoid the blazing Arizona sun, fans can start their evening by taking in beautiful views as the sun slowly drops beneath the Tucsons.
And Kino Stadium isn't just surrounded by mountains. A closer inspection of the facility reveals a veritable baseball village, with a total of 12 1/2 playing fields ringing the stadium. These fields are now used by local amateur and youth organizations, but through 2010 they were utilized by a pair of Major League Spring Training tenants (the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks).
Despite these picturesque environs and top-notch player amenities, the recent story of professional baseball in Tucson is one of loss. In 2011, the White Sox and Diamondbacks both departed Kino Stadium in favor of new Cactus League Spring Training complexes. The Colorado Rockies, who competed in downtown Tucson's Hi Corbett Field, also fled following 2010. This big league exodus had a Minor League harbinger. For in 2008, after years of stagnating attendance, the Pacific Coast League's Tucson Sidewinders departed for Reno.
The Week That Was
Odorizzi's career high
Jake Odorizzi struck out a career-high 13 batters on Tuesday night as Wilmington topped Salem.
Bulls back at the DAP
The Bulls returned to old Durham Athletic Park on Monday, but lost, 7-5, to Andrew Lambo-led Indianapolis.
Pomeranz, Taillon win
Drew Pomeranz of Kinston got his first pro win Saturday; next day West Virginia's Jameson Taillon did the same.
Harper bops to top
Bryce Harper has streaked to the top of the SAL heap. See him with Hagerstown while you still can.
Brentz a good bet to hit
Like hitting? Check out Greenville and outfielder Bryce Brentz, who has just one "oh-fer" in 32 games this season.
Matusz back on mound
Baltimore's Brian Matusz will take the hill for his first rehab start when Frederick hosts Potomac on Monday.
Therefore, the presence of the T-Padres isn't just business as usual in Tucson. It represents a potential last chance to prove that the city is a viable Triple-A baseball market. And, as with most things in life, the situation is complicated.
To be determined
As previously reported on MiLB.com, the Padres' Triple-A affiliate is only in Tucson temporarily. Or, at least, that was the plan. The team played in Portland last season as the Beavers but was bought by an ownership group led by San Diego owner Jeff Moorad with the intention of relocating to Escondido, Calif. But the chance of a new ballpark in Escondido, which once seemed quite likely, has been growing dimmer by the week as the ownership group has run into hurdle after hurdle (from an oft-recalcitrant city council to statewide budget cuts and spending freezes initiated by new California Gov. Jerry Brown).
But what's bad news for Moorad and company could be good news for Tucson. The original agreement called for the team to only compete in the city for one year, but that has been extended to two years with the door left open for more. Moorad was in Tucson for the T-Padres home opener last month, and while there he remarked to the local Arizona Daily Star: "At this point, we're excited to be in Tucson. I'm not sure how long it will last. We started talking about a year. That's turned into two years. I suppose I'd make a mistake if I tried to say an exact amount of time. We're just excited to have the two cities linked together."
Moorad went on to say that, if the now-floundering idea of a ballpark in Escondido is completely jettisoned, his ownership group might be content to remain in Tucson.
"Truth be told, I'm not so sure we wouldn't want to just run the club here and continue to own it," he said.
This is about as ringing of an endorsement that Tucson is going to get, and it's up to T-Pads general manager Mike Feder and his small but locally connected front-office staff to make the most of it.
"This has become a chicken-and-the-egg situation," said Feder on Wednesday, speaking from Kino Stadium's concourse as the T-Pads took on Round Rock in front of a modest midweek crowd. "If the fans really come out and start supporting us, then there's going to be a much better chance to keep the team here. But if they don't support us because they don't think the team's going to stay, well, then they'll be right."
The reluctance of the fan base is perhaps understandable given the extent to which Tucson has been abandoned in recent years (deserters include not just the Sidewinders and MLB Spring Training tenants but the Copper Bowl as well as an annual LPGA tournament). After being jilted so many times, perhaps the emotional investment required doesn't seem worth it.
A further challenge is one perhaps unique to any professional baseball market -- too many stadiums. Though Hi Corbett Field is a bit less picturesque and far more cramped, it does boast a central location within sprawling Reid Park, a more intimate and lively seating area, and a robust sense of history. The stadium was built in 1937 and housed the PCL's Tucson Toros franchise from 1969-1997 in addition to its multiple Spring Training tenants (the Indians from 1945-92 and the Rockies from 1993-2010). To some fans, therefore, the comparatively isolated and generic Kino Stadium will always be the runner-up in Tucson's baseball beauty contest.
Too many cooks
And it gets more complicated. Feder concedes that given a choice between the two stadiums, he would have liked to house the T-Padres in Hi Corbett. But that option was jettisoned after the threat of a lawsuit from current Hi Corbett leaseholder Jay Zucker, previous owner of the Sidewinders before that club relocated to Reno. Zucker currently owns the Tucson Toros of the independent Golden League, who went on hiatus in the wake of the announcement that the T-Padres would be competing in Tucson.
But the organization, headed by general manager Sean Smock, is still holding events at the stadium, including concerts, community health and wellness expos and a massively successful series of professional soccer games. Such activity indicates that the Toros' hiatus may very well be for this year only.
"With the Padres coming to town, we wanted to take the high road and let them have their day," said Smock, as he graciously gave me a tour of Hi Corbett on Thursday afternoon. "But if that day looks like it's going to turn into a week, then we'll explore other options."
Furthermore, Smock maintains that the atmosphere and location of Hi Corbett can trump the affiliated product on offer at Kino.
"I think the players and the fans prefer this ballpark," he said. "Watching games here, there's always an energy in the crowd. The seating is lower and closer to the field. ... But at Kino fans are set back from the action, and the environment is more sterile."
And even with the announced hiatus, it appears that the Toros are going to start competing with the T-Padres this season. The club's website lists a series of themed "Thirsty Thursday" events throughout the months of June and July, boasting "baseball, beer, and $1 entertainment." Further details have yet to be announced.
All of this leads one to wonder: How can a town that has had difficulties supporting one professional baseball team now support two?
One step at a time
Back at Kino Stadium, Feder is trying to focus on that which he can control.
"I think apathy is what we're fighting here, which is a more difficult thing to combat than negativity," said Feder. "People ask 'Why should I come to a game if you're not going to be there in two years?' But do you ask the same thing when you go to a movie theater? Of course not! You go because it's entertainment."
And the T-Padres are ramping things up on that front. Buoyed by the increasing likelihood of becoming a long-term entity, the club has invested in a promotional schedule that now includes established touring performers such as the ZOOperstars! (appearing Friday), Myron Noodleman (appearing Saturday) and the seemingly ageless wonder that is the Famous Chicken. "Thirsty Thursdays" have proven popular in the early going, and the club is actively reaching out to Tucson's considerable military population with ticket discounts and tribute nights.
So, though many questions remain, it is apparent that Feder is the right man for the job. The veteran baseball executive served as the Toros' GM from 1990-2000 and, after a stint working in New Orleans, returned to Tucson to head the Pima County Sports Tourism Authority. At Kino, he comes across as the ballpark's unofficial mayor, seamlessly interacting with civic leaders, autograph collectors, San Diego Padres personnel, ballplayers' families and innumerable other segments of the diverse ballpark ecosystem.
In speaking to him about his position with the T-Padres, his emotional investment in the operation is apparent.
"I just want so much for this to work out," he said. "Here in Tucson, we're tired of losing."
No matter how this all plays out, he -- and the T-Padres -- aren't going down without a fight.