Baseball

Will Cubs soon train in Sarasota?

New ownership of the Chicago Cubs baseball team is casting around for the best spring-training deal, and that net reportedly includes Sarasota, which is losing the Cincinnati Reds in two weeks.

Cubs’ fans in Manatee are ecstatic, even though the situation is not into the first inning of talks.

The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that Cubs’ ownership had threatened to move from their longtime spring training home in Mesa, Ariz., over conditions at a practice facility. The Tom Ricketts family is poised to purchase the team from Tribune Co.

Major League Baseball must approve the sale.

In Florida, management of Bradenton’s spring training team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, reacted positively Saturday night to news that a popular team like the Cubs might, in a few years, bring fans to McKechnie Field.

“The Cubs have a huge cult-like following that would spill over to McKechnie,” Pirates’ Director of Media Relations Jim Trdinich said.

He described that the Pirates in Manatee have a “core group of fans that love the Pirates” and having the Cubs in Sarasota might “bring more baseball fans out of the wood work” for spring teams.

Rockford, Ill., native and Cubs’ fan Brian Schultz, of Manatee, said he first heard the news Monday night while in Popi’s Restaurant before a Pirates’ game.

“I’m psyched up about it,” said Schultz, the cafeteria manager at Braden River High School who previously operated a deli in Palmetto that would have passed for a Wrigley Field icon.

His take on the situation? “If the right deal is made, they will come,” he said. “I’ve heard the new owners are not too happy in Arizona.”

Club Chairman Crane Kenney told reporters this week the Cubs were considering moving after 2012, when they can get out of their lease, the Chicago Tribune reported. They must inform the City of Mesa before spring training in 2010, a timetable that suddenly has set negotiations in motion.

“If the Cubs don’t get what they want, including added seating and more batting cages, one of the options they are exploring is moving to Sarasota, Fla.,” said the story by Paul Sullivan.

Cubs’ Manager Lou Pinella, the former Tampa Bay Devil Rays boss who lives in Tampa, liked the idea of returning to Florida.

“I like Florida,” Piniella told reporters. “You can get a team in shape much quicker because of the humidity. You can evaluate pitchers a lot better, and the ball will break a little more. I grabbed a ball the other day to hand it to a pitcher on the mound, and I felt like putting Vaseline on it.”

Piniella told the paper he was kidding about loading up the baseball.

In Sarasota, since the Reds announced they were leaving for Arizona last year, government and business leaders have talked to the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. No deals were offered that lured a new spring team.

In Arizona, the Cubs are a huge draw, averaging about 9,000 fans a game.

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