The Sporting Life Peoria offers sports fans everything under the sun SPORTS by ANGELA RABAGO- MUSSI Peoria Sports Complex is the spring training home to the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners. 16 PEORIA, ARIZONA
TOP: Cactus League fans love coming to Peoria. The Sports Complex draws more fans that any other facility. ABOVE: Phoenix International Race-way, just 20 minutes south of Peoria in Avondale, hosts two major NASCAR races. P PEORIA, ARIZONA 17 eoria Arizona may not be the center of the sporting universe, but a case could be made that it's close. The city is a short drive from every major sport — baseball, football, basketball and hockey. Add to this the twice- annual NASCAR extravaganza at Phoenix International Raceway, and you have a sports paradise. Peoria Sports Complex While there's no doubting the popularity of the Peoria Sports Complex among baseball fans — after all, it's the top- drawing spring training venue in the Cactus League — the 15- year- old stadium's reach extends well beyond baseball fans. Since opening in 1994, the Sports Complex has become the cen-terpiece of the vibrant Arrowhead Entertainment District attracting diners, shoppers and theater- lovers. Year- round activity In fact, while spring is the stadium's high- season for atten-dance, the Sports Complex is busy year- round. It has been recognized as one of the most highly used complexes of its kind, with a success story other spring training sites strive to emulate. Counting both baseball and non- baseball events, the Complex attracts an estimated 530,000 visitors each year. It hosts many of Peoria's signature events such as the Fourth of July and Halloween celebrations as well as other festivals, concerts and sports tournaments. First of its kind The $ 34 million training home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners was the first two- team Major League Baseball spring training facility in the country. In 2008, spring training attendance hit more than 230,000, an increase of 10,000 attendees from the year before and the fifth year running that games attracted more than 200,000 fans. Revenues at the complex hit a record $ 6.6 million in 2008. But beyond the numbers, the stadium is best known as a fan- friendly space. It was one of the first to add a spacious berm where fans can spread out on the grass to watch the game. In 2008, an autograph alley was added for fans to collect players' signatures, and improvements were made to 1,700 seats, said marketing supervisor Debbie Diveney. In a tradition that began opening season, spring training kicks off with an annual charity game between the Padres and Mariners to raise money for local charities. More than 600 volunteers in the Peoria Diamond Club lead the fund- raising efforts, working as ushers, ticket- takers and more at each spring- training game.