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Tribe big part of Goodyear's future

Tribe big part of Goodyear's future

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Mayor Jim Cavanaugh has this crazy idea of how best to inaugurate Goodyear Park.

The mayor sees Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller on the mound to throw out the first pitch. After his throw, Feller gets the ball back. As he stands on the mound, manager Eric Wedge hurries out of the dugout, walks up to Feller, grabs the ball from his hand and then waves to the Indians bullpen.

Suddenly, the loudspeakers blare "Wild Thing," the music cascading through the baseball complex. Out of the 'pen runs Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn, black-rimmed eyeglasses in place. Wedge gives Vaughn the ball, and, well ...

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It's just an idea -- a crazy idea, Cavanaugh confesses.

"But it'll get everything alive," he says. "That's what I want to do."

Half of the mayor's crazy idea is set: Feller has agreed to the honor of throwing out the first pitch for the grand opening of Goodyear Park next March. But Wild Thing's involvement still has kinks in it.

Cavanaugh hasn't bounced the idea off actor Charlie Sheen or his representatives and can't be sure if Wild Thing will be onboard.

But the mayor likes the thought of linking an icon from Indians yesteryear with an icon from Indians present -- or as present as a 1989 movie like "Major League" can be. Wild Thing and Feller would be right for the occasion.

Or so Cavanaugh says.

Whatever happens that first day, Cavanaugh can revel in what he's wrought. Even if this crazy idea of getting Sheen here next March doesn't turn into reality, the mayor can smile about another crazy idea that did work as planned: getting the Indians to move their Spring Training home to Goodyear, Ariz.

A work in progress

The place the Indians will call home doesn't look like much these days, though.

The plot of land along Estrella Parkway buzzes with earthmovers and men. Any resemblance the land has to a baseball complex is in a person's mind.

The site looks closer to Cavanaugh's initial dream than it does a finished product.

But two pillars that stand like citadels do hold promise of something grand. The dusty, sun-baked dirt that's flattened smooth shows small hints of what the two citadels lord over.

"It'll be like a postcard," says Nora Fascenelli, a spokesperson for the city manager's office in Goodyear.

The ballpark will be that -- and more. The Estrella Mountains will stand tall behind the ballpark's outfield walls, and Fascenelli swears if people watch the sun fall behind these mountains, they'll insist they're visiting a paradise lost.

From roots built on the back of cotton, Goodyear has dreams as grand as any community in the Southwest Valley.

Since the turn of the 1900s, the town, with a population of 55,000 today, has grown slowly, but the pace of its growth is taking off as if propelled with rocket engines. Getting a baseball team is serving as the centerpiece of a bigger plan: to turn a town into a city.

Within the next two decades, Cavanaugh predicts a population of close to 500,000, and plans are on the drawing board to shake loose the small-town image and replace it with big-city ambitions.

Along Estrella Parkway, the road that runs parallel to the baseball complex, the town has land for a convention center and for a new city hall. Three universities are coming to Goodyear, and condo complexes and hotels are popping up like crabgrass.

The Spring Training complex and its 10,000-seat stadium, which might be home to a second Major League team, will be a year-round sports community for Little Leagues, soccer and other community activities, Fascenelli and Cavanaugh say.

"This will be part of the anchor that holds the city together as it grows," Fascenilli says. "What we'd like to see this become is the hub of the new Goodyear as we grow and expand."

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Two hotels will abut the new ballpark, and more hotels are scheduled to break ground down the road from the ballpark.

Two hotels opened in time for the Super Bowl, which was held at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Both are no more than a 15-minute drive from Goodyear Park.

"We love it," says Daniel Corelli, general manager of a Hampton Inn in Goodyear. "People come out to Goodyear and the Surprise area just for Spring Training. It is absolutely the busiest time of the year."

He's already fielded a few calls from Indians fans asking about rooms for next year.

Yet keeping Goodyear hopping with activity has been part of the area's plan to grow. The area has its appeal. Mountains and bike trails dot the region, and the Grand Canyon is an easy drive north.

As the Midwest sees gray skies and dark days, Arizona gets more sunshine in the winter months than almost anyplace else in North America, says Sharolyn Hohman, president of the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The state also has a long history of Spring Training.

It has 14 Major League teams here now, and the Indians, who trained in Tucson, Ariz., for 45 years before moving to Winter Haven, Fla., in 1993, will make No. 15. Three of those teams are in the Southwest Valley.

The Indians make it four.

Hohman says the team's family-friendly ideals are a perfect partner for Goodyear.

"All the strategic planning we've done, our citizens still say we want to be a front-porch community," she says. "We like sharing our community, and this just fit into our community ideally."

Landing the Indians

Baseball in March does fit in well here. The town of Goodyear has easy access to Phoenix on Interstate 10, and the housing stock is fresh and growing.

The climate, Hohman says, speaks for itself.

Still, Goodyear had work ahead of it when it decided to go after a baseball team.

Cavanaugh says he started the town's hunt for a potential team to put into a sports complex as soon as the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority made money available.

He tried to contact Indians owner Larry Dolan and his family early on. He left messages, but nobody got back to him.

Cavanaugh had all but forgotten about the Indians until he was on a golf outing with a local attorney. The attorney knew an attorney in the Cleveland area, and that attorney knew the Dolans.

The second attorney made the introduction.

Months and months of talks led to a deal, and the promise of state money fueled the construction of the sports complex, a $75 million project that will top $100 million if Goodyear woos the Reds or another team.

"This was hard to do," Cavanaugh says. "Our move to bring the Indians here wasn't thought of favorably by others in the valley."

Those others wanted the state money for their own projects, but Cavanaugh didn't lose sight of what he wanted for Goodyear. He points out that the complex is not just about Cactus League baseball and Spring Training, which he estimates will pour as much as $20 million into the state's coffers.

The people in Goodyear told him they wanted more parks, he says. At its heart, the sports complex is a park, though it will blossom into a community in the years ahead.

"This is literally a park for the people of Goodyear," Cavanaugh says. "This is not only paid for by the people, it's used by the people."

They won't begin to use the complex until August, when much of the complex should be completed in time for an "unofficial" opening that month.

Cavanaugh says he hears that the construction project is on schedule, even if it doesn't look as if a ballpark will sprout off Estrella Parkway anytime soon.

But the mayor can't be certain himself how close his crazy idea is to completion; he hasn't been to the construction site, only about two miles from city hall.

"I'm the only person who hasn't seen it," Cavanaugh says. "But I'll get over there."

He'll definitely get over to Goodyear Park for Feller's first pitch, even if he can't get "Wild Thing" to come out of the bullpen in relief.

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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