The Cactus League
While most Major League teams flocked to Florida for spring training in the 1940s, the Cleveland Indians' owner Bill Veeck had a different idea. Veeck was no stranger to publicity, having given away live animals at games and staged weddings at home plate. He once sent Eddie Gaedel to bat – at 3 feet 7 inches (1.1 meters) he was too short to strike out. Veeck was also an early innovator, signing the first African-American player, Larry Doby, to the American League in 1947 followed by Negro League star Satchel Paige, the oldest rookie, at age 42 [source: Acocella].
In 1947, Veeck decided to take his Cleveland Indians west to sleepy Tucson, Ariz., where he owned some ranch property. The New York Giants took up residence in nearby Phoenix the same year, establishing a new outpost for spring training [source: Acocella]. With its temperate spring weather, dry air and endless stretches of golf courses, Arizona's Cactus League quickly became a baseball vacation destination rivaling Florida.
There is no requirement that teams join one league or the other. Sometimes, money is the decision-maker. In 2008, the tiny Arizona town of Goodyear (population 59,548 at the time) lured the Cleveland Indians back from the Sunshine State — they had trained in Winter Haven, Fla. since 1993 — by building a $76 million, 10,000-seat ballpark, partially funded by the local city government [source: Baseball Pilgrimages]. The Cincinnati Reds were so impressed with the plans for the new stadium and extensive "ballpark village," that they relocated to Goodyear, too.
Today, 15 teams compete in the preseason Cactus League. Again, they are a mix of American and National League clubs, and all but two teams — the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs — hail from west of the Mississippi. Here are the teams and the "hometown" Arizona locations:
- Arizona Diamondbacks (Scottsdale)
- Chicago Cubs (Mesa)
- Chicago White Sox (Phoenix)
- Cincinnati Reds (Goodyear)
- Cleveland Indians (Goodyear)
- Colorado Rockies (Scottsdale)
- Kansas City Royals (Surprise)
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Tempe)
- Los Angeles Dodgers (Phoenix)
- Milwaukee Brewers (Phoenix)
- Oakland Athletics (Phoenix)
- San Diego Padres (Peoria)
- San Francisco Giants (Scottsdale)
- Seattle Mariners (Peoria)
- Texas Rangers (Surprise)
One advantage for vacationing baseball fans is that Cactus League stadiums are much closer to each other geographically than Florida, so it's possible to catch multiple games in the same day in different Arizona stadiums.
For lots more information about the history and future of America's favorite pastime, check out the related HowStuffWorks links below.
Author's Note: How Spring Training Works
My father-in-law is a baseball junkie, the kind of guy who can watch any random team play any other random team on any given day and find it deeply satisfying. For his 60th birthday, my wife and some of her brothers flew him to Chicago to watch a Cubs home series. My father-in-law is from Idaho where the closest professional baseball team is several hundred miles away. Given his choice of teams to root for, he went for the perennial underdogs, the cursed Cubs, who haven't won a World Series in 104 years. I believe those three days he spent at Wrigley Field with his kids were something akin to heaven on Earth. I'm far from a baseball junkie, but I've recently discovered the charm of a Minor League game — small stadium, close to the action, lots of between-inning shenanigans. If someone bought me a ticket to Tampa to watch a few spring training games, I wouldn't refuse the generosity. Something tells me I might have to wait for my 60th birthday.
- Acocella, Nick. "Baseball's Showman." ESPN Classic. Aug. 20, 2000. (June 21, 2013) http://espn.go.com/classic/veeckbill000816.html
- Baseball Pilgrimages. "Goodyear Ballpark." (June 21, 2013) http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/spring/goodyear.html
- Catalina Museum. "The Boys in Blue: Cubs Spring training on Catalina Island: 1921-1951." (June 21, 2013) http://www.catalinamuseum.org/exhibitions_view.asp?nexhibition_ID=%7BA8ADEE93-DCB7-4EC8-9818-B116EB1B5FC7%7D
- Cooper, J.J. "Spring training Secret: Most Rosters are Set in Advance." Baseball America. April 3, 2013. (June 21, 2013) http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/spring-training-secret-most-roster-decisions-are-set-in-advance/
- Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. "A Brief History of Florida." (June 21, 2013) http://www.flheritage.com/facts/history/summary/
- Florida Grapefruit League. "2013 Attendance." (June 21, 2013) http://www.floridagrapefruitleague.com/home/attendance/
- Florida Grapefruit League. "2013 – The Quasquicentennial Year of Major League Baseball Spring training in Florida." (June 21, 2013) http://www.floridagrapefruitleague.com/home/history/
- Florida Grapefruit League. "Pittsburgh Pirates." (June 27, 2013) http://www.floridagrapefruitleague.com/vendorimages/flsportsGFL/Pirates.pdf
- FMR Associates. "Cactus League Attendee Tracking Survey." March 2012. (June 21, 2013) http://www.cactusleague.com/News/2012_cactus_league_tracking_report_exec_summary_121219id25.pdf
- Johns, Greg. "Final roster decisions coming Sunday." MLB.com. March 30, 2013. (June 21, 2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130330&content_id=43546520¬ebook_id=43561732&vkey=notebook_sea&c_id=sea
- Kurkjian, Tim. "Why we love spring training." ESPN The Magazine. Feb. 11, 2013. (June 27, 2013) http://espn.go.com/mlb/spring2013/story/_/id/8931860/why-love-spring-training
- SpringTrainingOnline. "1946-Present: Spring training History." Dec. 7, 2008. (June 21, 2013) http://springtrainingonline.com/features/history-3.htm