Art and money have a complicated relationship. Money likes art, in large part because it adds the pretty sheen of respectability. Art likes money, too. Patronage is all about money, and artists need to eat.
The Chicago Cubs know about this delicate interplay of culture and finance. After all, they play baseball (unquestionably an art) in a park built at the epicenter of a cataclysm in the sport (that was unquestionably about money). Wrigley Field, nee Weeghman Park, is the last surviving remnant of the Federal League, which itself is the last great attempt to create a third major league. Wrigley is a brick-and-mortar reminder that baseball is as much business as sport.
And so it's only fitting that Chicago's new Spring Training site, Cubs Park, is the result of some financial intrigue, as well. The Cubs have been in Mesa since 1952, but that's a bit of a fudge, as they uprooted in 1965, trained in California and Scottsdale for years, then returned in 1979. And the same dance appeared likely in 2010, as Naples, Florida came courting the Cubs with promises of a fully-funded new facility.
The Cubs, proficient in the business aspect of baseball if nothing else, parlayed that offer (and intercession from Bud Selig), into a new, publicly-funded ballpark to replace HoHoKam Stadium. Additional intrigue followed with Arizona State, which itself was searching for a new home for its baseball team (since it wants to sell the land under Packard Stadium for development - art and money). In the end, the Cubs are the sole tenant of Cubs Park, no need to share ala most teams in the Cactus League.
But thankfully for those of us only interested in the game, art followed the money to Cubs Park. Unlike the generic HoHoKam Stadium, the new site unmistakably belongs to the Cubs. It's not just the signage and logos. The park itself combines a spring-training size and design with the iconic features of Wrigley Field. The lights and awnings are bright-green iron shaped similar to Wrigley, and the press box exterior is the same signature ecru color.
There are no bleachers behind the outfield walls, just the standard Spring Training lawns, but even they fan out more or less in the shape of Wrigley. It's amazing to step into a brand new ballpark and yet have it hearken to a place that's celebrating its centenary.
The accommodations take from the best parts of the Cactus League: open concourses that let in light and keep the game visible, ample seating and plenty of gates to accommodate the big crowds, and giant video scoreboards better than what (at least for now) is awaiting the Cubs back home. The concessions were standard, but also included food trucks in center field that offered some good fare.
Not being fans of either team playing, we left after the 7th inning to beat the traffic, which is as daunting as it was at HoHoKam. I don't think Cubs Park challenges Salt River Fields' supremacy, but it's a terrific ballpark that, like the work of an Old Master, takes something familiar and makes it new. Art followed money in the Renaissance, too.