Fresh from a morning run on an underwater treadmill in the 1,200-square-foot hydrotherapy room across the hall, designated hitter Travis Hafner sat at his locker while a few teammates watched highlights of the 1997 World Series on one of four plasma TVs hanging from the ceiling.
His back to the giant screens, Hafner sifted through a box stuffed with fan mail. Some of the envelopes had been forwarded.
The Cleveland Indians have a new address: Goodyear.
Unpacked but not completely moved in, they are settling into their new spring home.
After training from 1993 to 2008 in Winter Haven, Fla., the Indians have returned to Arizona where they already are enjoying the amenities of the $108 million state-of-the-art training facility and adjacent 10,000-seat ballpark they’ll share with the Cincinnati Reds, who will follow them West next spring.
Cleveland’s new desert digs, nestled in the shadows of the Estrella Mountains, are a world away from the antiquated conditions they left behind in Central Florida.
“It’s such an upgrade from Winter Haven, it’s unbelievable,” Hafner said, looking around the spacious clubhouse. “It’s got everything: training rooms, weight rooms, hot tubs, batting tunnels. Anything we need is right here. In some ways, this is even nicer than Progressive Field.”
On arid land first developed by Akron-based Goodyear Tire, the Indians’ 42,000-square-foot training complex and ballpark have sprouted like a cactus flower in this fast-growing community west of Phoenix. Unable to work out a deal to remain in Florida, the Indians packed up and headed back to Arizona, where they previously trained for 46 years.
Upon arrival at the new complex, players have found themselves awed by their new surroundings.
“Every guy who walks in here is taken aback,” said clubhouse manager Tony Amato. “It’s like, 'Wow! This is unbelievable. It isn’t Winter Haven anymore.’ ”
Not even close.
Cleveland’s former spring hangout had become a joke. With the club unable to work out a deal with Winter Haven officials, charming Chain Of Lakes Park deteriorated to the point that it was no longer major-league caliber. There were rats in the clubhouse and a snake slithered into the outdoor press box two years ago.
By contrast, the Indians’ Player Development Complex and Goodyear Ballpark are up-to-the-minute modern. The two structures share a common design of dark-stained wood, glass and steel exteriors with interiors that are sparsely decorated yet maintain a distinct Southwest influence.
But beyond the 47-acre complex’s architectural merits, the Indians are counting on the facilities to be a year-round training home for players throughout the organization.
“We look for opportunities at different junctures to have a competitive advantage,” said assistant general manager Chris Antonetti. “To have a state-of-the-art facility and development complex, this provides us with those opportunities. It creates a better environment to work and to get work done.”
Upon entering the training complex, visitors walk down a long hallway adorned with framed pictures of Indians greats Bob Feller, Satchell Paige, Sandy Alomar and Omar Vizquel. To the right is the club’s minor-league clubhouse, housing the team’s future, as well as cavernous weight and training rooms.
On the left is the lavish clubhouse, which was designed in an oval shape so players can see everyone in the room to promote more interaction.
“It brings everyone together,” Amato said. “It’s the selling point of the facility.”
Through the doors at the end of the hallway are the six practice diamonds — one with identical dimensions to Progressive Field, down to the 19-foot-high wall in left — six batting cages, two infields, an agility area for conditioning and a six-mound outdoor bullpen .