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It happens every spring. We'll all be sitting out by the pool at the Sunburst Resort Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., rehashing the ball game some of us saw some part of that afternoon, when suddenly there will come forth from a room at poolside the iridescent figure of Charles S. (Chub) Feeney. Chub will have arrived in town sometime earlier that afternoon, probably from somewhere colder, and will have shed conventional business attire for his technicolor spring training wardrobe.
We all know what will come next. Scarcely acknowledging our languid presence, Chub will stretch white arms from chartreuse polo shirt, look up into the bright blue skies and bellow operatically to no one in particular, "Oh, but it is grand to be here in the bee-yootiful Valley of the Sun." This accomplished, he will then join the chaise longue cocktail banter as the sky turns crimson in the west.
Feeney, who is now president of the San Diego Padres after having retired from 17 years as president of the National League, is dead right about the Valley of the Sun. It is beautiful and it is grand to be there soaking up some rays in the dry climate and watching and talking a little baseball. In fact, there's nothing quite like spring training in Arizona. It's an entirely different experience from spring training in Florida—"slower, sweeter and somehow better fixed in memory," as Roger Angell once wrote in The New Yorker.
Feeney recognized these virtues when he first came to the Southwest for spring training in 1947 as a young executive with the New York Giants, then owned by his uncle, Horace Stoneham. As New York fans would learn a decade later, Stoneham was a man of westward leanings. It was Bill Veeck, then running the Cleveland Indians, who first discussed with Stoneham the possibility of moving to Arizona. Veeck had bought a ranch near Tucson after World War II, and he knew he could spend a lot more time at it if he could get his team to train somewhere nearby in the spring. And why not? The spring weather is generally better and certainly drier in Arizona than in Florida, where the Indians had been training. A team could get a lot accomplished on one of those cloudless 80� days. So Veeck and Stoneham decided to try out the new territory in the spring of 1947.
The spring training rivalry between the Indians and the Giants dated back to 1934. Originally, the two teams would leave Florida in late March and barnstorm their way north. Veeck proposed that the teams now work their way east from Arizona. Stoneham ended up liking what he saw out there. (Liked it so much, in fact, that, at age 85, he now lives there year-round.) He would take the north ( Phoenix) and Veeck would have the south ( Tucson). It was a geographical split similar to one Stoneham would agree to with Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers in California in 1957.
The Indians and the Giants pioneered spring training in the desert. And it was pretty much desert in those days. Tucson was a small town, and Phoenix hadn't a tenth of the nearly one million citizens it has today. But the two teams weren't out there all by themselves, exactly. Any number of minor league teams trained in the vicinity, and the Pirates, White Sox and Cubs were all working out in those days in Southern California, which wasn't all that far away.
The transplanted Indians and Giants seemed to prosper right away in that arid clime. The Giants set a National League home run record in '47, and the Indians won the World Series the next year. In 1951, the Giants and the Yankees traded spring homes for just the one year and ended up meeting in the World Series, the Phoenix-trained Yankees beating the St. Petersburg-trained Giants. Then in the '54 Series, the Giants, back in Arizona, by now for good, swept the Indians.
Other teams were drawn to the desert. The Cubs, who had trained since 1921 (excepting the war years) on Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, moved to Mesa in 1952; the Orioles went to Yuma in 1954 and then from 1956 through 1958 to Scottsdale; and the Red Sox came out for a seven-year stay in Scottsdale in 1959.
There are eight teams in the Cactus League now. The Indians are still in Tucson, playing as they have from the start on wonderful little Hi Corbett Field. The Giants are now in Scottsdale, the Cubs in Mesa, the Athletics in Phoenix, the Seattle Mariners in Tempe and the Milwaukee Brewers in Chandler. The Angels spend the first four weeks of spring training in Mesa, the last two weeks in Palm Springs. And though the Padres are based some 180 miles away in Yuma, they put in at least one two-week stretch in Scottsdale.
Here's the beauty of it: The Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Scottsdale ballparks are all within a half hour's drive of one another. In the event all four had a game scheduled at home for the same day, a particularly diligent fan might catch at least an inning or two of each game. I know I have been to parts of at least three games on the same day on one or two frenetic occasions.