Modern day spring training began here in 1947 when Bill Veeck brought his Cleveland Indians to Tucson and Horace Stoneham came to Phoenix with the New York Giants. In 1951 Arizona baseball fans got a good look at the New York Yankees when future Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio and rookie Mickey Mantle trained in Phoenix. A year later spring training got an additional boost when civic and government leaders convinced more Major League teams to train in sunny Arizona. In 1952, Dwight Patterson and members of the newly formed Mesa HoHoKams led negotiations as the Chicago Cubs and the City of Mesa signed a multi-year agreement. Many other teams followed with the most recent additions being the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians in 2009 and The Cincinnati Reds in 2010. Today, the Cactus League is now made up of 15 teams playing in nine cities, in ten stadiums throughout the state.

Visitors can count on near perfect weather each spring – another draw for folks still under a layer of snow and ice seeking respite in the Sonoran Desert. Pitchers and catchers arrive in mid-February with other players soon following and you can watch them practice at area parks – for free! Guests planning their spring training pilgrimage can get an early start on securing their vacation packages starting in December when the Cactus League schedule is released.

FANS CELEBRATE ARIZONA’S COLORFUL CACTUS LEAGUE BASEBALL HISTORY

The Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, just a few minutes from Hohokam Stadium, is the new home of Play Ball: the Cactus League Experience, opening Feb. 26, 2010. This interactive and educational exhibit celebrates the long and colorful history of professional baseball in Arizona from the sports barnstorming days in the early 1900’s, to the inauguration of the Cactus League in 1947 and up through the present day.

Here, visitors are treated to stories of the players, teams and ballparks that have all made the annual spring pilgrimage to the Southwest. This expanded exhibit is showcased in an entirely new space designed specifically for the collection. The exhibit’s existing displays, including Arizona’s original spa at Buckhorn Baths used for player conditioning and the popular Wii baseball game, take center stage. New additions include touch screen kiosks to showcase additional historical content and photos, baseball art, and interactive activities including “design your own pennant,” and “make your own trading card.” Youth enjoy the 3-D stadium puzzles available, while adults take in the audio visual elements with historical film montages, which feature Cubs legendary broadcaster Harey Carey and footage of spring training from the early 1950s.

Since Play Ball! debuted in January 2009, the Mesa Historical Society has received incredible support from baseball fans across the nation who wish to contribute to the exhibit. Coveted items that date back decades have been collected and donated for display in the expanded exhibition including a rare glove, mask, and uniform from the early 1900s; Ernie Banks signed little league bat; signed memorabilia from favorite Cactus League stars including Gaylord Perry, Reggie Jackson, Mark Grace, and Bob Feller; Seattle Pilots, Red Sox, and Orioles memorabilia from stadiums across Arizona. Extensive research and collecting is on-going for the exhibit which involves members of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and a committee of civic leaders.

Baseball’s ability to garner interest and followers that span generations add a special touch to these exhibits. While enjoying their time at the Arizona Museum for Youth, adults can re-live their childhood dreams here, and children can create new ones, as they view items dating back to the era of Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax and Willie McCovey.

(Brought to you by the Mesa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau)