Diamondbacks switch to fake turf so they can crank their a/c, Rangers may follow suit

Also on Friday, the Arizona Diamondbacks owners, who have been shopping around to get a new stadium to replace 20-year-old Chase Field since negotiating an out clause to their lease back in May, have announced that they’ll be switching their current stadium to artificial turf next year, as they apparently just discovered after two decades that grass needs sunlight and water:

The decision to swap live grass to turf, of course, came after failed attempts at finding grass that grew well in the desert. The team would keep the Chase Field roof open during the day, allowing the sun in, but even closing it in the late afternoon before night first pitches made for a hot game-viewing experience with the air conditioning cranked up.

Arizona tried a new strain of grass this past season, and while it looked better than in years’ past — when the outfield would develop brown, dry spots where outfielders stood — it still played hard.

“It looked good and when you talk players, when you talk to our facility staff, it still didn’t play well and still wasn’t very healthy out there,” [Diamondbacks CEO Derrick] Hall said…

The move to synthetic turf will save the team money on its water bill and electric bill.

The team expects a 90 percent savings, or two million gallons, in water consumption.

The irony here, of course, is that the Diamondbacks demanded a pricey retractable roof when it got its stadium built back in the ’90s in large part so it could open it to the elements to allow natural grass to grow. (The Houston Astrodome famously had to turn to newly invented artificial turf — dubbed Astroturf as a result — after its initial plan to grow grass under a roof with glass windows turned out to be a disaster.) Of course, they didn’t know then how much fans would demand that the roof be closed as much as possible to let the air-conditioning kick in, or for that matter how crazy hot it would get in Phoenix now that we’ve broken the earth’s climate. But still, irony.

Notably, the Texas Rangers owners still haven’t announced whether their new retractable-roofed stadium will feature grass or artificial turf, and team officials there may keep a close eye on how the D-Backs’ new turf plays next spring before making a decision. Given that the whole point of the Rangers’ new stadium is to have air-conditioning, though, and that Texas occupies the same Anthropocene climate as Arizona, you have to think they’ll be leaning hard toward plastic grass. Which makes you wonder why anybody bothers with moving roofs anymore anyway — they’re crazy expensive and hardly ever opened to the elements in warm-weather cities — but I guess it’s hard for even sports team owners to pass up stuff that looks so cool from passing airplanes.



Diamondbacks made a stadium-related proposal to Phoenix, city officials won’t say what it was

This is a very weird story: The Arizona Republic reports that in June, Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall sent an email to Phoenix city manager Ed Zuercher, offering to discuss an “opportunity” for a partnership involving a stadium. And that’s all the Arizona Republic reports, as Zuercher won’t reveal what the proposal was, citing a nondisclosure agreement that Hall demanded he sign before being allowed to view the partnership proposal.

Cities refusing to release otherwise public documents because they’re involved in ongoing negotiations over them is common, but from the sound of things, these talks went nowhere, so it’s not an open issue. Normally this would make the documents in question fair game for journalists and the public via the Arizona Public Records Law — but a city spokesperson said the NDA required the document to only be “loaned” to the city to examine, then be returned to the team owners, making it not a public document.

This is, plainly, worrying as hell: If business owners of any kind can hold talks with public officials under a shroud of an NDA without it being subject to freedom of information laws, it will be a major loophole in requirements that records of governmental operations be made available to the public. This particular proposal could have been nothing important, or it could have been something that will affect the future of the Diamondbacks and public money in significant ways — the whole point is we don’t know, and have no way of knowing, thanks to this legal dodge. It’s the paperwork equivalent of hiding in hallways to evade open meetings laws, and I sincerely hope somebody challenges it.

Friday roundup: Leaky fountains, cheap stadium beer, and the magic of computers

The world may be on vacation this week, but the stadium news decidedly is not:

Friday roundup: Nevada gov candidate threatens Raiders’ roads, Phoenix sued over Suns arena plans, Rays stadium could seek Trump tax break

And the rest of the week’s news:

Maricopa County to let D-Backs break lease early in exchange for dropping lawsuit, here comes the next stadium shakedown

My first thought yesterday when I saw the news about an agreement between Maricopa County and the Arizona Diamondbacks and read it the way people do nowadays — look at the headline and first paragraph, then let your eyes lightly graze the rest — was “Let the Diamondbacks break their lease early just in exchange for dropping a lawsuit that the team owners were almost certain to lose? What a bunch of saps!”

Actually reading the details, though, it appears to be … “a good deal” would be overstating it massively, but certainly a reasonable decision by the county under the circumstances, albeit one that opens the door for some immediate stadium subsidy shakedown shenanigans.

The story so far: Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick sued the county a little over a year ago, claiming it owed him $187 million in repairs and upgrades to Chase Field. The county responded by pointing out that most of that money — which was projected costs contained in a 2013 report — was for things that the team’s lease specifically said were the team’s responsibility. Eventually a judge ordered the two sides to go to arbitration, which is where things stood until yesterday’s agreement.

Under that deal, which still needs to be approved by the full county board, Kendrick will drop his lawsuit and his $187 million upgrade demand, though he could still eventually get $20 million in county money as reimbursement for some repairs. In exchange, the team owner will get to start looking for a new home effective immediately, and will be able to leave Chase Field without penalty starting in 2022 if it’s for another stadium within the county — and leave the county altogether with just minor penalties of $5 million to $25 million.

That sounds terrible — except that the Diamondbacks’ lease was up in 2027 anyway, at which point the team could have left without penalty. So really this is just giving up five years of the team being guaranteed to stay put in exchange for the small but real risk that an arbitrator would require the county to cough up a bunch of renovation money, which at the going rate for lease extensions isn’t a terrible tradeoff.

The problem now, of course, is that Kendrick is certain to start shopping around for a new home — or, rather, shopping around for somebody else to pay him to build a new home, since he wasn’t even willing to pay to fix the “old” one that’s just 20 years old — and the Phoenix area is potentially a great place to do so, since it’s full of independent cities (and Native American reservations) that can be played off against each other. Sure, that’s going staggeringly poorly for the Arizona Coyotes, but then nobody really cares about the Coyotes — nobody visible to the naked eye, at least — whereas the Diamondbacks are fairly popular.

And then there’s the possibility that Kendrick could threaten to move the team out of Arizona entirely — something that would be incredibly stupid to actually follow through with, since it’s by far the largest TV market still available, but not necessarily stupid to threaten in order to scare some cash out of local legislators. After all, the team’s lawyers already threaten to do so once — or rather, threatened to have the league threaten to order them to — and one particular clause they insisted on putting in the new deal sure makes it sound like they’re considering that leverage option again:

An even broader “out” clause is included, which county leaders said they agreed to reluctantly.

“In the event the MLB requires the Team to leave Arizona because of the condition of the stadium, the Team may do so without penalty or other payments if all parties have acted in good faith,” the agreement reads.

Maricopa County Board Chairman Steve Chucri, R-Paradise Valley, said he does not believe the league would move the team. He said the county would sue if it did.

“It’s a risk. But it’s incredibly unlikely,” he said. “There are far worse stadiums” that the MLB hasn’t required teams to leave, he said, so yanking the Diamondbacks would be bad faith.

On the one hand: Oh, man, you seriously want to go into court to try to argue that something MLB is doing is in worse faith than typical MLB practice? Good luck with that. On the other: Enh, the most it will cost the county is $25 million in lost penalties anyway.

This is likely to be a long, ugly battle, and will be a significant test of whether stadium subsidy demands are really starting to fall on deaf ears, or just resting after a prolonged squawk. Check back here in about five years, and we should have the answer.

Friday roundup: Islanders close to Nassau deal, Olympic stadium to be razed after four uses, and it’s rethink your MLS stadium site week!

And in other stadium and arena news this week:

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!

Jeter can’t move Marlins sculpture, D-Backs suit kicked to arbitrator, and more stadium news

Extra-super-brief news roundup this week, regular programming to resume next Thursday:

That’s it for now. Que vagi bé, i fins ara.

D-Backs CEO: We never threatened to move team if a/c didn’t work (but still could)

After the Arizona Diamondbacks lawyer’s statement in court this week that the team could be forced to move out of Arizona if the county won’t pay to fix leaky air conditioners was met with derision and people pointing out there aren’t exactly any better markets to move to, team CEO Derrick Hall attempted to walk the threat back yesterday. It was exactly as hilarious as you would expect:

“Over a month ago, we had a huge power outage with the heat downtown and, when the power came back on a Sunday before a day game, our chill system, our air-conditioning system, went down and we had huge gushing and rushing water leaks throughout the entire ballpark in major spots,” Derrick Hall told Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station on Thursday.

Hall said the team was able to open the park and play that day, but it was a close call.

“That’s near-catastrophic and if we did not have air conditioning that day, we can’t play baseball,” he said…

The league’s plan could involve moving the team, but Hall said that would only be temporary.

“There’s nowhere to play in the marketplace if something like that happens indoors and in the summer, so I think Major League Baseball is talking about an emergency or a contingency plan and, again, they do have the ultimate authority,” he said.

Okay, so if the a/c didn’t work, the D-Backs might have had to postpone a game — something that only happens dozens of times over a typical season already. But supposedly MLB needs to have a “contingency plan” so that if the a/c doesn’t work on some future date, it would immediately fly the teams to another city and … yeah, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Just admit that your lawyer was trying to levy a ridiculous threat that the team would leave town without a county-renovated stadium and be done with it, okay?

“Obviously, [owner] Ken (Kendrick) and I would never want to leave Arizona. This is our home,” he said. “This is where we want to be.”

Sure, close enough. That’s the traditional paratrooper gambit, anyway.

D-Backs lawyer: If our stadium a/c keeps leaking, MLB could force the team to leave Arizona

Sports team owners trying to get other people — mayors, league commissioners — to make move threats for them is a time-honored tradition, but “if we don’t get a new stadium, the league might force us to move” is a rarely employed gambit. Which makes it all the more jaw-dropping that the Arizona Diamondbacks are now alleging that if Maricopa County doesn’t fix leaky pipes at Chase Field, MLB could force the team to leave Arizona:

Leo Beus, an attorney for the team, raised the MLB specter as he argued to a Superior Court judge that the case should be decided quickly because the team is “facing a crisis.”

“Major League Baseball … they’re very, very concerned,” Beus said, noting he has spoken with six of the league’s top lawyers. “If Major League Baseball decides they want to create issues for us, there might not be baseball at all in Arizona.”

“We’d like to keep the franchise in place, we’d like to make peace with Major League Baseball, not that we’re at war,” he continued. “We don’t know where that’s going to come out. They’re very concerned.”

Okay, so. Beus’s main gripes are over two incidents in June, one where a sewage pipe burst in an office (ew) and another where a power surge caused an air-conditioning system to flood suites and other areas of the stadium right before a game (less ew, but it meant the a/c was off for the game, which is pretty ew in Phoenix). But the D-Backs’ court battle with the county isn’t over whether the stadium needs to be maintained; it’s over who will pay for maintenance, which the team says is the county’s job (to the tune of $187 million), and the county says is on the team. (The latter is what the county’s agreement to the team appears to say, but I am not a lawyer, let alone a judge.)

All of which brings us to our quote of the day, from Maricopa County’s attorney, Cameron Artigue:

“This (lawsuit) has nothing to do with the water leaks and the merits of Chase Field,” he said. “The Diamondbacks are the facility manager. When a pipe breaks, that is a Diamondbacks problem. And that is, in fact, what happened. They got out the mops and they mopped it up, and life goes on. It’s a big facility and sometimes pipes break. So what?”

Anyway, if anyone really thinks there’s a chance that MLB is going to force only its second franchise relocation in 45 years because a couple of stadium pipes broke, I have some Mets World Championship bets for you to place. Chalk this up to “Lawyers Say the Funniest Things” — come to think of it, “we’d like to make peace with Major League Baseball, not that we’re at war” would make a pretty good quote of the week, too.

MLB commissioner: 19-year-old D-Backs stadium isn’t “major-league” anymore, trust me on this

Back in February, soon after the Arizona Diamondbacks sued Maricopa County to get out of their Chase Field lease because the county was refusing to pay for $187 million in maintenance and upgrades (most of them items that the lease appears to say are team responsibilities), MLB commissioner Rob Manfred chimed in that “to be a major league-quality stadium,” the stadium “needs work.” Apparently he thinks no one was listened then, because yesterday, he said it again:

Manfred spoke at the ballpark and reaffirmed statements supporting the club that he made during spring training. He said for Chase Field to remain a major league-quality stadium, substantial capital expenditures must be made. He said if they aren’t, there may come a point when the franchise seeks an alternative home.

Manfred said Major League Baseball has reviewed studies of state-of-the-art ballparks and determined what is required in renovation and capital investment.

“We concur wholeheartedly with the Diamondbacks’ position that there are substantial needs here with respect to this stadium, to keep it as a major league-quality stadium,” Manfred said.

This is, let’s remember, exactly the job that sports commissioners are hired for: Dropping vague move threats when team owners are too worried they’d get burned in effigy if they did so themselves. Manfred got off to a slow start in the blackmail-enabling department, but he seems to be getting the hang of it now. (That bit about “we’ve done studies of what state-of-the-art means” is an especially nice touch, since “state-of-the-art” is an inherently undefinable term that just means “whatever the next guy down the road has that this owner wants.”) Who he’s trying to convince, given that this is going to be decided by a court and not public opinion or an elected body, is anyone’s guess, but at least he’s proving that he can learn to be a more competent shill.