In less than a month, pitchers and catchers will report across the Valley for half-hearted stretching and long throwing sessions with shot glasses and Scottsdale swingers. This will mark the start of an extended preseason in Major League Baseball targeted at those snowbirds beloved by the locals for their expendable cash and inexplicable fetish for overpriced jewelry and Native American tchotchkes.
East of Scottsdale, the Pima and Maricopa tribes have already started rolling out their new marketing lines to entice locals and visitors alike to Talking Stick Resort, Talking Stick Casino, Talking Stick Golf Club, Scottsdale Pavilions, and a new traditional Native American activity: baseball.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick swings open its doors in March to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies as their new spring training home and nearby rehab home. It's not enough to be yet another feather in the entertainment destination headdress filled out by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC), though. All the pre-opening marketing blitz has been about tradition.
From the PR kit of SRPMIC straight to the US Airways in-flight magazine (PDF) to the website for the ballpark to Phoenix Business Journal to the Arizona Republic, the watchword is "bringing baseball home", to quote numerous materials. Games were played near here thousands of years ago, the materials say, so it's right to bring $115 million worth of ballpark to a Native American community trying to drag as many visitors as possible onto its golf courses (another game!), upscale shops, and casinos. Don't you see the connection?
Of course, the games described in the literature are essentially basketball for men and field hockey for women, but... y'know, games. Tradition! And golf is a lot like field hockey, so they've got that going for them, which is nice. Tradition! (Honestly, this sounds less like Native American history and more like "Fiddler on the Roof".)
The Talking Stick moniker even got play at the naming ceremony as an elderly Native American craftsman carved a calendar stick in front of the press (photo #29). See? Tradition! The roofs over fans' heads to provide shade from the oppressive midday sun in late March? They're like modern ramadas, mimicking the olden shade used by local tribes. Tradition! And if you drive west of the 101 to Scottsdale, you can stay at a Ramada. Tradition! (But don't do that; there will be upscale hotels to the east with far more traditionally awesome shade.)
Diamondbacks fans are rightfully excited about skipping the two-hour drive to see the new-look D'Backs play in the Cactus League this spring with the team's move into a facility closer to home. Rockies fans might actually visit this year, which would be a small boon to the local economy. Both of these may boost incidental spend at Scottsdale Pavilions and maybe even encourage Denver visitors to spend a long weekend pouring their guilders into slot machines and taking in a ballgame.
Now can we all stop with the clumsy attempts to staple history onto the side of gleaming new mixed-use facilities? Derrick Hall, CEO of the Diamondbacks, put it best to Phoenix Business Journal when he called the new collection of money vacuums "the Disneyland of baseball". Sucking people dry of cash off the goodwill of a brand name is a sufficiently strong American tradition unto itself; enough with the attempts to give it gravitas or make it seem less capitalist.
The only tradition being upheld here is the Peter Minuit-style sales job put on a Valley community by a sports team and a builder just before draining their coffers in the interest of an entertainment district, which is the most irresistible of all the 21st Century baubles. Finally, Glendale is a trendsetter.