All I Want for Christmas is Cactus Leads!
By Robert Johnson
It may be December but spring training tickets for games next March will go on sale just in time for the perfect stocking stuffer this Christmas. And while I always enjoy tickets to games in the warm spring-time sun, what I really want this year is a little information about the following people, places and teams that played a role in Arizona’s rich Cactus League history. Whatever I get from generous readers who see this list will be put to good use in the 2012 season of a spring training history exhibition called “Play Ball – The Cactus League Experience.”
Segregation – African American players weren’t always allowed to stay at team hotels. Many were forced to find rooms in the homes and offices of compassionate Valley residents. Who gave a room to these young ball players and what memories would these good Samaritans or their families be willing to share?
Navarro Film Studios – What happened to this longtime Valley business and the work of Mesa resident and businessman Bill Navarro? One day many years ago he walked into the Mesa Historical Museum to donate his old film camera and sound gear used to shoot highlights of Chicago Cubs spring training games. But what became of the film? Does anyone have it? Will you share it?
Colt 45s and Seattle Pilots – These two teams are among the lost teams of the Cactus League. The Colts spent a handful of seasons in Apache Junction before moving spring operations to Florida and changing their name to the Astros. The Pilots briefly trained in Tempe before they became the Brewers. Does anyone remember watching these two teams? Do you have photos, programs or other items you would share with future generations of fans?
1951 NY Yankees – Del Webb brought his Yankees to Phoenix Municipal Stadium to play for one spring season. But other than a rare program from that short visit, little is known of the Bronx Bombers only spring in the desert. Did you go to one of those games?
Riverside Park in Phoenix – Before Phoenix Municipal Stadium was built, spring training games were played on the banks of the Salt River at a place called Riverside Park. We would all be grateful for more information about this early Cactus League venue.
Orioles, Pirates and Tigers – These historic franchises all made pre-season stops in the Valley but there is little evidence of their visits. Perhaps you have something from a game or passed on from a relative that would fill in the blanks of their stories?
Roy Drachman, Hi Corbett, Horace Stoneham, and Bill Veeck Jr.- These Cactus League pioneers made it happen and we have very little beyond written accounts of their roles. We want to celebrate their vision and commitment to building spring training in Arizona, but how do we contact their families?
Volunteers – We need more! The people with the answers to many of these questions are getting older making our efforts to gather their stories even more critical. But we don’t have enough people to mine the amount of history yet uncovered. If you love baseball and have time, we couldn’t ask for a better gift this holiday season.
The Play Ball project is America’s only collection of Cactus League history. Our fourth season will open next February and now features enough objects and photos for four different exhibitions around the Valley. Yet there is so much more of the story to be told. Please visit www.playballexperience.com and make our holiday wishes come true!