Cactus League stories sought
By: Robert Johnson
It may be December but spring-training tickets for games next March go on sale just in time for your favorite baseball fan this Christmas. And while I always enjoy watching a game in the warm spring sun, what I really want this year is information about the people, places and teams that played a role in Arizona’s rich Cactus League history.
Your contributions will be put to good use in the 2012 season of a spring-training history exhibition called “Play Ball — The Cactus League Experience.”
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 film pioneer Bill Navarro? One day many years ago, he walked into the Mesa Historical Museum to donate his film, camera and sound gear used to shoot highlights of Chicago Cubs spring-training games. But what became of the film?
Colt 45s and Pilots
These two teams are among the lost franchises of the Cactus League. The Colts spent a few seasons in Apache Junction before moving spring operations to Florida and changing their name to the Astros. The Seattle Pilots briefly trained in Tempe before they became the Brewers. Do you have photos, programs or other items you would share with future generations of fans?
1951 N.Y. 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?
Before Phoenix Municipal Stadium was open, spring games were played on the banks of the Salt River at a place called Riverside Park in Phoenix. We would love to know more about this early Cactus League venue.
Roy Drachman, Hi Corbett, Horace Stoneham and Bill Veeck Jr.: These Cactus League pioneers made it happen but we have very little beyond written accounts of their roles. Drachman and Corbett were Tucson civic leaders who helped land spring training in Tucson.
Stoneham owned the New York and later San Francisco Giants and Veeck was the legendary owner of the Cleveland Indians. They are known as the two owners who first committed teams here, thus forming the Cactus League.
We want to celebrate their vision and commitment to building spring training here. But how do we contact their families?
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 opens in February and 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!
Robert Johnson is the vice-chairman of the Mesa Historical Museum Board of Directors and project leader for “Play Ball – The Cactus League Experience.”