Baseball is almost back: Surprise gears up for busy spring as World Series champion Texas Rangers arrive

(Video by Tim Russell/Cronkite News)

SURPRISE – The city of Surprise is suiting up for the convoy of fans who make their way to Arizona every spring to celebrate the return of Major League Baseball. This time, however, the World Series champions will be calling it home and the city expects that to bring a larger-than-usual influx of visitors.

The Texas Rangers, who share the Surprise baseball facility with the Kansas City Royals, pulled off an unexpected run to the 2023 World Series, where they bested the Arizona Diamondbacks in a comfortable 4-1 fashion.

Kendra Pettis, sports and tourism director for Surprise, recognizes how important it is for not only the state but for the city to host the World Series champions.

“We’re so excited to see the Rangers get to make it to the World Series, and then having the Diamondbacks in the World Series as well. Honestly, just a great thing for the Cactus League,” Pettis said. “(It’s a) great thing for the city of Surprise from an economic impact and standpoint. It was fun to watch them make it all the way to the World Series championship.”

To celebrate the Rangers’ accomplishment, the city is hosting a World Series championship celebration before the Rangers’ game against the San Francisco Giants on Feb. 25 with the actual World Series trophy present. A tailgate celebration with food trucks and vendors will follow the game.

Pettis has already seen an increase in ticket sales, even though games in Surprise don’t kick off until Feb. 23 with a matchup between the Rangers and Royals. She expects to see numbers similar to the spring training season after the Royals won the World Series in 2015.

“When we had the Royals win the World Series in 2015, that following year for our spring training was the highest-attended ever, so we’re hopeful that we’ll see similar numbers to that,” Pettis said.

Pettis said more than 200,000 people came through Surprise to watch spring training games in 2016. Last year, 167,973 people attended spring training.

She underscored the large economic impact spring training brings to communities throughout the Valley.

“The Cactus League as a whole does a study, and it’s over $700 million that spring training brings to the state of Arizona each year,” Pettis said. “So, it’s like having a main event every single year and so obviously with Surprise hosting two of those teams, we (have) a big impact to the community as well.”

As preparations ramp up, Surprise readies to welcome the Texas Rangers and their devoted fans to spring training at Surprise Stadium. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As preparations ramp up, Surprise readies to welcome the Texas Rangers and their devoted fans to spring training at Surprise Stadium. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Surprise has upgraded the ballpark fan experience this spring with the addition of new video boards.

The new scoreboard in center field will be larger and clearer and ribbon boards above the first and third base lines have been replaced to allow for higher resolution graphics to be displayed.

Craig Pohlman, the owner of Tempe-based Grand Canyon Productions, which provides content and professional services for scoreboard and LED display systems, is excited about the additions to the Surprise Stadium.

“With a large board, we can now play much more detailed videos,” Pohlman said. “We’re going to have new in-game promotion enhancements like new contests and interactive elements with the crowd and the video board, and we just started building some of those now. It’s going to be very exciting.”

Pohlman provided a sneak peek into some of the ideas planned for the new video board. With the help of ChatGPT, a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence (AI), he developed a new concept for in-game entertainment.

“We started to use AI to come up with ideas, and I went into ChatGPT and started plugging in some information and it helped me come up with a new concept,” Pohlman said. “We’re going to have a match game on the board with six giant squares that are numbered that people will pick and if they get a match (it’s called speed match), and if they get the match within 30 seconds, they win the prize.”

The new video board isn’t the only way Surprise is planning on entertaining spring training guests. There are many events planned, including a movie night at the ballpark and fireworks.

“We’re really trying to get a lot of different people out and into the stadium and offer a lot of different events and promotions for our residents and visitors,” Pettis said.

The benefits of hosting a World Series champion for the spring don’t go unnoticed to Pettis.

“We’re just so proud to partner with both the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, anyways,” she said. “They’ve been great partners for us for the past 20-plus years and we’re lucky enough to have two World Series championships here in the city of Surprise, so it’s definitely great for our community.

“It means increased ticket sales. It means increased room nights; more people visiting our restaurants and our retail, so overall just a big impact to the community.”

James Lotts(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

James Lotts expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Lotts interned for Times Media Group, where he has been published in a number of different newspapers and magazines in Arizona and Southern California.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Timothy Russell expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in communication studies. Russell has interned with PHNX and has worked for sports organizations such as the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks.