By DAVID MOULTON
In the aftermath of my report Sunday that the Chicago Cubs are seriously considering moving their minor league operations and making Naples their spring training home, I’ve received more than 700 e-mails (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Collier County residents and sports fans who have questions, concerns or doubts about this story.
Because of the incredible set of circumstances behind this story, (going from a series of columns to being acted on by the rich and powerful, to remarkably being seen as a good idea by the Cubs), we now have a story that could potentially alter the landscape of Collier County for generations. And I am now considered an authority on it.
So forgive me if I fluctuate between feeling a bit over my skis yet at the same time realizing that except for the Cubs, Esmark Inc. and Fifth Avenue Advisors, no one else knows this story like I do.
So it’s with a lot of humility that I will try to answer between today and in my regular column on Sunday as many of the questions and concerns that you have about the Cubs’ potential move from Mesa, Ariz., to Collier County.
Today I’ll answer far and away the biggest fear that was expressed: Are the Cubs just using Naples to get a better offer from Mesa?
First, by going public last weekend, the Cubs brought much more grief onto themselves than if they had stayed quiet. Mesa (and the rest of the Cactus League) is now freaking out. By going public, the Cubs risk a backlash in Mesa and throughout the state of Arizona.
Yet the Cubs went public anyway. Why? Not to get a better offer from Mesa. Arizona officials told the Cubs in September they’d give them whatever they wanted. Was it because the Cubs wanted to see how excited Collier County would be at the prospect of them coming? Why would they risk burning the hand that feeds them (so to speak) unless they were thinking seriously about leaving?
Second, as I’ve stated before, the game is a simple one. You give the Cubs what they want or you have no shot. Therefore, there is nothing to gain by using one city against another. Either side will ultimately give the Cubs what they want. If the Naples group and its offer did not exist, the Cubs would still be looking for the very same things that they are now. Instead of possibly leaving Mesa for Naples, they’d be leaving Mesa for other parts of Arizona (because they can do better than what they have now). Therefore, there is nothing to gain for the Cubs to use Naples.
Third, if you’ve read Craig Bouchard’s new book “America for Sale” or spent any time talking to the Esmark cofounder and owner of Naples Tennis Club, you’ll quickly find out that he’s not a guy that will stand for being played. His negotiating style is very direct. He has negotiated deals over the last 30 years that are far more complicated and more than 10 times the value of this one. If the Cubs were going to play anyone, do you think it would be a billionaire or a politician? If anyone gets played here, it won’t be Naples.
Finally, the Cubs don’t have a deadline to stay in Mesa. They have a deadline to meet if they are to leave Mesa. The Cubs have to decide about Naples within a few months. They have six years to get a better deal from Arizona. So for many reasons, including the Cubs’ actions and basic common sense, their interest in Naples is genuine.
Read more about the Cubs to Collier movement from David Moulton in Sunday’s Daily News. Moulton is co-host of “Miller and Moulton in the Afternoon.” The show airs weekdays 2 to 7 p.m. on WWCN/AM 770 ESPN. His column runs every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.