History of the Museum

Season Six

The sixth season of the Cactus League history project marks a major milestone in the journey to develop a permanent home for the collection, as fans are greeted with a name change and the launch of the new Cactus League Hall of Fame.

The name of the project was changed over the winter from the Play Ball – The Cactus League Experience to the Arizona Spring Training Experience to more accurately reflect the ever-growing collection of spring training history.

The Hall of Fame also launched this year honoring seven Cactus League pioneers who helped create and nurture the league in its earliest days.  Induction ceremonies now will be an annual event for the project.  Members will be enshrined online until a home for the collection and the Hall is funded and developed in the Valley.  Fans will be allowed to vote for future inductees via social media channels.

One major exhibition and two ballpark installations allow fans to enjoy the story of spring training in the desert, now entering it’s 68th season in 2014.  Much of the history is on display at 51 E. Main Street in downtown Mesa, while fans attending games at Goodyear Ballpark and Tempe Diablo Stadium also can get a glimpse of the Cactus League story.

The Beginning

The concept for Play Ball was hatched in early 2008 as an idea for a popular exhibition by the Mesa Historical Museum’s Director, Lisa Anderson, but was never envisioned as anything more than a presentation of history to occupy one or perhaps two of the rooms in the historic schoolhouse converted to a museum in Mesa’s Lehi neighborhood.

However, soon after the show opened there in late January 2009, it was clear to Anderson and her team of dedicated baseball fans turned volunteers that this idea had the potential to become much more than a one-room show. In fact, even before the first season of spring training baseball fans had passed through the exhibit, plans were being laid for massive expansion and ultimately a permanent “home field” for the project.

With the support of the now-late Cactus League President Robert Brinton, Phoenix political consultant Robert Johnson, and baseball researcher Rodney Johnson, the project first envisioned by Anderson now had the makings of an effort with the political, financial and volunteer support to become a national attraction.

Every day during the 2009 season the collection grew, as fans learned of the project and wanted to take part, through donations and loans of objects and photographs, stories and leads on people who witnessed the early history of Major League Baseball warm-ups in Arizona.

Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry gave early prominence to the project by launching the exhibit with a visit on opening day, and signing autographs for hundreds of fans making a donation to the museum cause. He was followed the first spring by Jimmy Wynn, a slugging outfielder who spent his first seasons of pro baseball training in Apace Junction with the now defunct Houston Colt 45s, and Marty Pattin, a pitcher who was part of the Seattle Pilots roster the only year they trained under that name in Tempe.

Chicago Cubs great and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and A’s catching legend Ray Fosse also made stops at the museum to see the fledgling history project and lend their efforts to early fundraising for the collection.

Corporate support for the project continues to be strong with in-kind and cash donations helping make sure the presentation and promotion of the project remains second-to-none.

Whereas the sluggish economy has led to the demise of many history museums across the country, the result here has been an even more concentrated effort to ensure the success of the project during these difficult times.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and members of the Mesa City Council in mid-2009 voted to bring the Play Ball exhibit into the City’s fold by moving the show from the private Mesa Historical Museum to the City-owned Arizona Museum for Youth, a venue with higher annual traffic and a better location in downtown Mesa.

The move placed the project, still produced and managed by Anderson and her team of volunteers working under the umbrella of a partnership between the City and the Mesa Historical Museum, in a position to achieve its long term goal of a permanent home much faster than the five to seven year projection when the idea was conceived.

With the agreement to move the Mesa exhibition to a newly remodeled space in downtown Mesa the mold is cast for a more stable future for the project.

The Future

This year is expected to bring an agreement with a partner to fund construction of a new home for the project that will become a national tourist destination.  At least two different locations are under discussion with potential partners who are excited about the possibility of hosting this one-of-a-kind collection.

In the meantime, the sixth season of the Arizona Spring Training Experience opens in three locations across the Valley.  A visit to Mesa or one of the host ballparks easily fills any morning that ends with lunch and a game at one of Arizona’s ten awesome spring training ballparks!