'Baseball heaven' nears completion

'Baseball heaven' nears completion

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The overhead lights inside the spacious weight room located behind the left-field fence at the Baseball Park at Camelback Ranch will glow Dodger Blue in a couple of weeks.

And you'll see a lot of White Sox black and white behind the right-field barrier.

A vision that is more than a year in the making moves closer to reality as another set of diamonds in the desert nears completion. A project that normally would take 16 months to complete will be ready for occupancy just 12 months after ground-breaking ceremonies.

Welcome to the new Spring Training home of the Dodgers and White Sox.

Mixing pleasure with two days of ownership meetings in Paradise Valley, Dodgers chairman Frank McCourt and president Jamie McCourt, along with White Sox chairmen Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, visited another kind of "paradise" on Thursday afternoon, spending nearly two hours touring the 141-acre facility, now 90 percent finished and ready for pitchers and catchers next month.

"Awesome, just awesome," a wide-eyed Reinsdorf said. "This is the second time I have been here, and it is going to be magnificent. It is a tribute to Frank's vision. If it were up to me, I would just have a place to play baseball. But he had a vision of what he wants this to look like, and that's what it's going to look like."

It will be the largest facility of its kind in the Cactus League and gives the league eight teams within a 20-mile radius this season, and nine teams in 2010. The Mariners and Padres share the Peoria Sports Complex, the Rangers and Royals are partners in Surprise, the Indians have moved to Goodyear -- and will be joined by the Reds next season -- and the Brewers are in nearby Maryvale. All of those complexes are on the west side of the Phoenix area.

In all, there will be 14 teams in the Cactus League this season and 15 next season.

A shared-facility concept started by the Mariners and Padres has spread throughout the Cactus League over the past 15 years, and the one being constructed on this former farmland takes the prize.

The jewel of the huge facility is a sunken 10,000-seat stadium that sits in the middle of the complex, which includes six practice fields for each organization and plenty of room for fans to roam.

"We are trying to develop a real baseball paradise here, an oasis where people can come here and get lost in baseball heaven," McCourt said.

There is a large lake, already stocked with carp, serving as the centerpiece that leads to the main entrance to the stadium, located in straightaway center field. A tunnel allows the White Sox players to walk from their clubhouse to the primary practice field (the Dodgers will move around above ground), and there are plenty of concession stands, restrooms, souvenir shops, and an eventual Walk of Fame that will honor the rich history of both organizations.

"To me, the entirety of the complex itself is a 'wow'," McCourt said. "It's the whole experience, the whole impression. It's just really great to see ideas become reality, and become reality with such great care. The date I look forward to is the day we play our first game and see the fans' reaction to the facility, because in the end, it's all for the fans."

The first Cactus League game at the facility is scheduled for March 1, a 1:05 p.m. MT game between, of course, the Dodgers and White Sox. The Mariners face the Sox on March 2 and a game will be played every day in March (and April 1) except for March 3 and 23.

Besides the 10,000 permanent seats in the stadium, another 3,000 fans can be crammed into grass berms in left and right field and there is room down both lines to eventually add about 2,000 more permanent seats.

The consensus of Thursday's tour is that this is going to be some kind of facility.

"So many people have made it a passion to make it right for this community," McCourt said. "It is a community asset and our hope is that the community embraces it and makes good use of it. This is really like having a great park in the middle of your city. The fact that it has 12 baseball diamonds and a stadium doesn't change the atmosphere here."

The atmosphere on Thursday was the sound of 700 workers doing what they need to do to get this place operational by Feb. 14, when the Dodgers' pitchers and catchers have their first Spring Training workout. The White Sox have their first battery workout the following day.

Camelback Ranch-Glendale is located at 111th Avenue, west of the Loop 101 between Camelback Road and Glendale Avenue, and reaches across both Glendale and Phoenix city borders. The two-team facility eventually will include residential, restaurant and retail development, a four-star hotel and an 18-hole golf course.

This is the second time the White Sox have changed Spring Training addresses. They moved from Sarasota, Fla., to Tucson several years ago and shared a complex with the Diamondbacks.

But the opportunity to become a partner with the Dodgers in the Valley of the Sun was too inviting to pass up. The White Sox worked out an agreement with Tucson officials to move north.

But moving Spring Training is new to the Dodgers, who spent the previous years at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

"There is tremendous, tremendous history embedded there," McCourt said, "and that's what made the decision [to move] so difficult. But at the end of the day, we wanted to give our fans a great experience. Spring Training is one of the great parts of baseball, where fans can bond with the players and vice versa.

"And our fans just couldn't get to Vero Beach. It was not affordable and took a huge time commitment. You can fly here in an hour, or drive here in five hours from Los Angeles."

That being said, McCourt said that Dodgertown is "so much in our DNA" that fans walking around the grounds at Camelback Ranch-Glendale will run into reminders of Vero Beach, including the close access to players.

"There will be no fences or barriers," he said.

While being confident about the move from the time it was put into motion, McCourt said it was validated last spring after the team returned from China and played the remainder of its Spring Training schedule in Arizona.

"For Dodgers fans," he said, "this will be phenomenal."

Dodgers catcher Russell Martin couldn't agree more.

He and his girlfriend also were on the tour and he was impressed.

"I am a little overwhelmed," he said. "It's a beautiful, beautiful place."

With or without those glowing Dodger Blue lights.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.