Mesa to Honor Cactus League Pioneer Brinton on his Field of Dreams

March 2, 2012
Mike Sakal

He began selling programs at Chicago Cubs spring training games at Mesa’s Rendezvous Park when he was a little boy in the 1950s; he’d later help to solidify the foundation of the Cactus League and its foothold in Arizona. Now, the legacy of Robert Brinton — a lifelong resident of Mesa who died unexpectedly on Oct. 21, a week after his 60th birthday — will be honored before the Cubs take the field prior for Monday’s spring outing at Hohokam Stadium.

Brinton wore many hats for the city he called home. A former president of the Cactus League, he also served as a bishop in the Kimball stake of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints. At the time of his death, he was also the president of the Mesa Visitors and Convention Bureau, and a longtime member of the Mesa Hohokams civic group.

But through it all, those who remember him knew him to always make time for his family.

That family will be on hand to take part in Monday’s ceremonial first pitch at Hohokam, and a moment of silence will be held in his memory. After that, the Cubs’ ownership plans to honor him again prior to the team’s game on March 14. In addition, special-issue baseballs with gold embossed lettering in his memory will be thrown out for the first pitch at the opening spring training games at each Cactus League ballpark; the pro players who catch the first pitch will sign the ball before it’s placed in the Mesa Historical Museum’s “Play Ball” exhibit, dedicated to the history of spring training in Arizona. Brinton conceived the idea that the exhibit would someday have its own museum as part of the tourism draw that comes with families and fans.

Brinton’s impact on the advancement of the Cactus League in Arizona can be seen Valley-wide, but it’s his knowledge, as well as the friendly arm he threw around one’s shoulder with a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye, that will be missed many who felt his impact.

Among them was Mark Gallo, a 23-year employee for the city of Mesa who has been the manager of Hohokam Stadium for the last two years, where Brinton provided a steady and welcoming presence, often donned in a maroon Hohokam shirt and a white Indiana Jones-like hat.

“I never met anyone with a bigger heart,” Gallo said. “Robert was a helping hand, the big brother, and a friend. “I never had him not be there for me. When I became the manager for Hohokam Stadium, he and Dave Dunn, the stadium manager before me, took me under their wing. There’s days I sit at work and wonder who I’m going to get the answers from,” Gallo added. “You just have to take what he taught you and apply it. One time I asked him, ‘where do you find time to do everything?’ He kind of laughed and said, ‘I don’t. I just get it done.’

“There was more to Robert Brinton than just baseball,” Gallo added. “His family has a great legacy. His father [Dilworth Brinton] was among a group of businessmen who helped to bring the Cubs to Mesa in 1952, a school bears their family name and Robert was instrumental in persuading the Cubs to work with Mesa when the team was considering to leave for a new spring training facility in Naples, Florida.”

Gallo noted how there were a few things Brinton didn’t want anyone to know about — like his work with organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation; he wanted to make sure kids with a terminal illness or disabilities got on the field to meet a player or watch a game from the skybox, Gallo said.

“It’s huge for someone to away from the chaos and world of terminal illness, and he knew that,” Gallo said

Another friend of Brinton’s was Milt Fort. Fort was his colleague at the Mesa Visitors and Convention Bureau and is now the interim CEO of the organization.

“He was a great friend and a great mentor,” Fort said. “You name it, at one time or another, Robert was there. He was always about service before self. He moved a lot of projects in a positive direction, but never wanted to take the credit for it. He’d let his staff make their own decisions. He’d tell you both sides of the story, teach you the prospects and principles and then say, ‘what do you think?’ and let you direct yourself.”

Robert Johnson, vice president of public affairs for Highground, a political consulting firm in Phoenix who oversaw the Cubs’ Proposition 420 campaign supporting a new spring training facility and worked with Brinton on the Play Ball exhibit, said it is fitting that Brinton’s legacy is having its day.

“With all the things Robert Brinton did and was a part of, it would be easy to honor him longer,” Johnson said. “Even though he no longer is with us, we’ll always remember him and think about him as we move forward and accomplish the things he put in motion.”