The Royals are in the final stages of discussions with the city of Surprise, Ariz., their spring-training home since 2003, for wide-ranging renovations to modernize their facilities, team officials said.
The project has not been finalized, but the Royals intend to move their operations across the valley next month and take up a temporary residency in Phoenix at Papago Park, the former home of the Oakland Athletics. The Royals expect the facility in Surprise to be ready by next February.
Assistant general manager Scott Sharp indicated the organization was “very far down the road” in discussions with the city, which offered about $16.9 million for updates to entice the Royals and the Texas Rangers to extend their leases and remain in Surprise. The amount will be split equally between the two teams. Sharp indicated the exact sum has not been officially decided, but expected a verdict within the next two weeks.
The Royals seek to reconfigure their facility to meet the demands of the current baseball landscape, when a spring-training complex often serves its club beyond February and March.
“We’ve expanded beyond the capacity of our building,” Sharp said. “We’re just trying to keep up with the newer facilities. As most facilities are nowadays, it’s really pretty much a year-round training facility. We’re just trying to get it up to capacity in that regard.”
The Royals moved to Surprise after spending 15 seasons at Baseball City in Davenport, Fla. Surprise Stadium was considered the height of modernity when the Royals and Rangers first arrived. It has since been surpassed by newer facilities like the Salt River Fields complex shared by Arizona and Colorado.
Royals officials remain happy with their relationship with Surprise, but emphasize the need for improvements.
“We’re touching every space in our clubhouse,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. “Our major-league clubhouse is being re-done. Our minor-league clubhouse is being re-done. The weight room is being re-done. The training room is being re-done. There’s not an inch in our building that’s not going to be different — other than the lobby area.”
Sharp indicated the upgrades would add about 25,000 square feet to the Royals’ complex. Their proposal calls for a multipurpose room that includes a dining facility and a kitchen. In recent years, the Royals ate their meals inside the big-league clubhouse, while minor-leaguers dined underneath a tent outdoors. The cooking staff grilled meat under the Arizona sun.
The alterations include the introduction of a hydrotherapy unit to their rehabilitation facility. The Royals also intend to add more staff conference rooms on the minor-league side, additional administrative offices and a media center.
Once the renovations receive approval, the Royals must transfer all their equipment from Surprise to Phoenix. Picollo indicated the move would begin in the first full week of May. The Royals chose Papago Park after surveying the available choices.
One option, Picollo explained, was to share a facility with the Padres in Peoria. That would keep the Royals on the western side of the valley and reduce the travel headaches for staff members who live in Surprise. Phoenix traffic is a consistent source of frustration. But the team opted for the vacant space at Papago, which Oakland left after 2014.
“It’s nice to be by yourself and not have to work around another team,” Picollo said. “So Papago became a little more attractive for us, for those reasons. Because it’s empty. It hasn’t been vacated so long that it’s dilapidated or anything like that.
“So we went to Papago. We liked the situation. Liked the locker room. The fields are in good shape. They’re still taking care of them, just like when the A’s were there. So that made a lot of sense for us.”
The new park will serve as the organization’s base of operations for their rookie-level Arizona League team and the Arizona Fall League, and for any players sent there for rehabilitation. By February, the team hopes, their old home back in Surprise will be ready to reclaim them.
“We’re really excited about it,” Sharp said. “Really, everyone involved is. It’s our commitment, and the city’s commitment to our organization, to get our players the best training facility we can possibly give them.”