The last train from Tucson

Buck Showalter was driving through the Everglades when the call came in from the desert.

He is broadcasting Spring Training games in Florida on the same day they are closing his ballpark in Tucson. Yes, his ballpark, his facility, his complex.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are playing their final game at Tucson Electric Park on Tuesday. The Rangers are their opponents in the shadows of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north and the Rincon Mountains to the east.

TEP.jpg“That’s fitting,” Showalter said driving along Alligator Alley on his way to Fort Myers.

Showalter was the Diamondbacks first manager. He built the Diamondbacks into a world championship team. He was the chief architect of that franchise along with Mel Didier, Sandy Johnson, Mark Connor and others, and anybody who suggests otherwise is delusional or revisionist.

Showalter also designed the entire Diamondbacks Spring Training complex in Tucson. Every single square foot. The place was opened in 1998. It closes on this spring. They are trying to convince Japanese teams to train here but that’s unlikely.

“What a waste,” Showalter said. “When that place opened it was the Taj Mahal. I thought it was baseball utopia. It was a great facility.”

The Diamondbacks shared the place with the White Sox until last year. The White Sox moved to Glendale last year to share Camelback Ranch with the Dodgers. That left the Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies as the only teams left in Tucson, which is 2-21/2 hours south of Phoenix and all other Spring Training facilities.

The Rockies train at Hi Corbett Field, which was built in 1937. It’s a jewel in a city park but hardly the lavish facility that Major League teams require today.

AZ_PicachoPeak02.jpgSo next year the Rockies and the Diamondbacks will share a new complex in Scottsdale next year. No doubt it will be plush. A Taj Mahal. A baseball utopia. Until the next one is built.

It won’t be built in Tucson. Nobody wants to come to Tucson. Too long of a drive on maybe the toughest interstate imaginable. I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Drive 65 in the left lane and you’ll get run over by an 18-wheeler. Drive 65 in the right lane and you’ll hit the back end of a 1972 Dodge truck belching smoke and going 50 miles per hour.

But there is great scenery along the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway once you plow through the Phoenix traffic, get around South Mountain and explode into the Sonora Desert below Chandler. The Grande Valley, Picacho Peak and Newman Peak, the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Farm, Pinal Air Park and then the mountains that rise around Tucson. Plus other mountains in the distance across the basin of the desert.

Sorry Buck, never made it to the Red Rock Bar, a little outpost in the middle of nowhere. He didn’t either but he always threatened to. Sorry Marla, never stopped at the Ostrich Farm.

Actually, really sorry not to ever visit Old Tucson. That’s where they filmed more than a few westerns including one of my all-time favorites: El Dorado with John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and James Caan.

But methinks hit every gas station and rest stop between here and Surprise at some point over the last eight years, and driving through the Sonora Desert at sunset on the way back to Phoenix is small recompense for a twice-spring drive to Tucson.

Wouldn’t want to do it too often but Tucson was always a great road trip.

Scottsdale? That just another commute through the massive Phoenix traffic. We have enough of those.

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