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Spring Fever

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That won't happen in Arizona, where land values tend to be a bit higher than your average marsh property. And even some Florida cities seem to be souring on the notion of giving away real estate. The city of Fort Myers recently rescinded a 300-acre offer it had made to the Minnesota Twins, deciding it just wasn't worth it. "That's a very good sign for all of us," says Mesa's Robert Brinton. (Safford, on the other hand, argues that even if a coastal city with high land values decided not to accommodate a team, there are plenty of interior communities with "high and dry" property that wouldn't require infielders to wade through bogs.)

Fort Myers is now trying to interest the Twins in buying the property, says Rob Antony, the Twins' assistant director for media relations. The Twins are unhappy playing in the shadow of a new football stadium in Orlando, he says, and are still looking hard at Fort Myers. The club is also making eyes at Arizona, though sources say a Twins deal is a long shot at best.

Outgoing baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth threw another wrench in the See Florida First theory last year when he cautioned Cactus League owners not to move too fast toward possible Florida deals. Ueberroth said the survival of the Cactus League was important to baseball--a position that has since been echoed by incoming czar A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former president of Yale University. In town to catch an Oakland A's game last week, Giamatti affirmed his support for spring baseball in Arizona, and vowed that any team wishing to bail out "will have to talk to him first."

Despite Giamatti's tough talk, some task force members continue to run scared. It's not clear whether the commissioner actually has the power to stop a team from moving, they note. Wealthy team owners aren't going to back off just because an academic like Giamatti has flexed his muscles. And what about Arizona's delicate chances for a major-league expansion team? "If we screw up the Cactus League," predicts one task force worrier, "we're gonna get hammered with that but good when the league gets ready to expand."

Even the doomsayers admit that there's plenty of posturing going on in Florida. But, as one nervous observer puts it, "you could take Florida a lot less seriously if they hadn't built five new ballparks there." Motivated mostly by fear, Arizona cities have moved quickly to accommodate teams.

Scottsdale wants to tear down the beautiful old Scottsdale Stadium, a redwood jewel built in 1951, and issue $7 million in bonds to build a new playhouse for the San Francisco Giants. "It's a fun ballpark, but it's an old ballpark," says Scottsdale vice mayor Bill Soderquist of the present stadium. The City of Mesa and the HoHoKams, the nonprofit service group that attends to the Chicago Cubs, have shelled out $400,000 worth of improvements for the team. Phoenix negotiated a new three-year lease with the Oakland Athletics and expanded parking at Municipal Stadium. Even the lowly Seattle Mariners got some $200,000 in clubhouse improvements from the City of Tempe, and now say they're happy as a clam.

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Andy Van De Voorde