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America’s favorite past-time kicked off it’s Spring Training schedule on Friday. Major League Baseball’s Arizona Based Spring Training program, known affectionately as the Cactus League, brings a lot of life and visitors to the Valley this time of year, so we thought we would take a look at the history of the Cactus League as well as some of the the local business owners, architects and builders that that made it all possible!
1909 – The Chicago White Sox were the first big league team to play a game in Arizona in 1909 as they headed back east after holding training camp in California. For the next 3 decades, exhibition games are played in Arizona, but no Spring camps are held here.
1929 – The Detroit Tigers became the first club to actually hold their spring training in Arizona. They move spring camp back to California in 1930.
1946 – Bill Veeck, who owned a ranch near Tucson, purchased the Cleveland Indians and started holding spring camp in Tucson. They played their games at Randolph Municipal Baseball Park which was later renamed Hi Corbett Field, currently home to the University of Arizona Wildcat Baseball team.
1947 – Veeck convinces San Francisco Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move the Giant’s spring camp to Phoenix. The Arizona air must have held some magic, because the Cleveland Indians became the first Cactus League team to win the World Series in 1947.
1951 – New York Yankees co-owner Del Webb convinced the Yankees to swap spring camp sites with the San Francisco Giants in order to show off his team to his beloved hometown crowd. That year the Giant’s trained in St. Petersburg, Florida while the Yankees trained in Phoenix. Because of this trade, Phoenicians, not Floridians were able to witness the first spring season Mickey Mantle ever played as well Joe DiMaggio’s last spring season. Ironically, the Giants and the Yankees met in the World Series later that year.
1952- the Chicago Cubs move their Spring training base from the more remote Catalina Island in California to Mesa’s Rendezvous Park. Rendezvous Park in Mesa was more than just a ballpark though. It was an entire recreational facility that featured pools, a dance hall and roller rinks! Rendezvous Park had a rich, eight decade long history of baseball under it’s belt by the time it was razed in 1977.
1953 – After relocating from St. Louis to Baltimore, the Baltimore Orioles reluctantly move their Spring camp to Municipal Stadium in Yuma, Arizona.
1962 – The Houston Colt 45’s, who later became the Houston Astro’s, played their 1962 and 63 Spring seasons in the newly constructed Geronimo Park in Apache Junction and helped grow the Cactus League to six teams. No other team ever played at Geronimo Park after the Colt 45’s, and it was dismantled in 1969.
1964 – A new Phoenix Municipal Stadium, designed by architect Fred Guirey was built by local contractor Del Webb. The San Francisco Giants moved their Spring Camp to the new stadium, and Willie Mays hit the stadium’s first home run.
1966 – The Cactus League was down to only the two teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians, after the Chicago Cubs left to train in California and the Boston Red Sox left for Florida.
1969 – The Seattle Pilots, whose franchise was sold and became the Milwaukee Brewers prior to leaving spring camp, and The Oakland Athletics also decide to move their spring camp to Mesa, Arizona. The A’s would go on to win the World Series three years in a row (1972-1974) while training in Mesa.
1973 – The Milwaukee Brewers move to Sun City Stadium which was demolished shortly after the Brewers left in 1985.
1986 – The Milwaukee Brewers make the move to the newly built Compradre Stadium which was later demolished in 2014.
1991 – Scottsdale Stadium is razed and replaced by a new ballpark with the same name by famed architects HOK (later becoming the global sports venue design icon, Populous) who also also designed Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
1993 – The Cleveland Indians are lured away by a new stadium in Florida and leave Tucson. The Colorado Rockies take the Indians place at Hi-Corbett Field. The Los Angeles Angels also leave Palm Springs for the newly renovated Tempe Diablo Stadium.
1994 – The San Diego Padres relocate from Yuma to Peoria after the brand new, $32 million Peoria Sports Complex, designed by Populous, opens. The Padres share this facility with the Seattle Mariners. This new idea of shared facilities sparks a movement that continues to grow over the years.
1998 – The Arizona Diamondbacks are born as was a new-shared complex with the Chicago White Sox in Tucson. Brand new and costing $32 million to build, Electric Park, designed by Populous, opens in the spring giving Tucson three teams and increasing the Cactus League membership to ten. The Milwaukee Brewers also move to a new $23 million complex in Maryvale called Maryvale Baseball Park.
2003 – The Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers relocate their spring camp from Florida to a brand new, $48 million shared complex in Surprise also built by global sports complex designer Populous. The Cactus League membership grows to 12 teams.
2006 – The Chicago White Sox moved their Spring camp from Tucson and Los Angeles Dodgers moved their Spring camp from Vero Beach the newly built Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Camelback Ranch was designed by international architectural firm HKS. The Cleveland Indians also return to the Valley and set up their Spring camp in Goodyear, again built by Populous.
2010 – The Cincinnati Reds join the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear and the Cactus League’s membership grows to a whopping 15 teams! At this point in time, half of all of the Major League teams train in Arizona and the Cactus League is equal in size to Florida’s Grapefruit League.
2011 – The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies move their Spring camps to a shared, newly build facility known as Salt River Fields designed by HKS, Inc. and built by Mortenson Construction. The Rockies move to Scottsdale in 2011 left Tucson without spring training baseball for the first time since 1947, and it made the Phoenix Metro area host to all 15 Cactus League teams.
2014 – Mesa opens a new ballpark known as Sloan Park for the Chicago Cubs. This venue was designed and built by, you guessed it, Populous! DWL Architects + Planners, Inc. also had a hand in the design and building of Sloan Park.
2015 – The Oakland A’s move our of Phoenix Municipal Stadium to Hohokam Park. Because of this move, Phoenix Municipal Stadium is turned over to the Arizona State University Sun Devils Baseball program.
At this point in time, even with its renovation in 2006, Tempe Diablo Stadium, which opened in 1969, is the oldest park still hosting spring training today.
So, if it feels like everyone who is anyone in baseball has spent time in the Valley of the Sun, it’s because they probably have! Although it took some time to become the baseball mecca that it is today, the Phoenix Metro area, and their beloved Cactus League, is now giving the Grapefruit League a run for its money, We don’t know about you, but we’ll take warm and dry over humid and sticky any day!
Let’s PLAY BALL! The Cactus League kicks off on Friday, February 21st at 1:05pm in the Surprise Stadium where the Texas Rangers will take on the Kansas City Royals. Click here to check out the Cactus League website for a complete schedule and ticket information.
Historical data for this blog post was taken from the following sites: