Spring Training Festival Launches Baseball Fever

February 24, 2012
The Arizona Republic
Peter Corbett

Cactus League games are still a week away, but the Scottsdale Charros will host a lineup of free baseball events this weekend at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall to launch the spring season.

The inaugural Spring Training Festival, presented by Land Rover, will include baseball activities for children, music, food and beverages, a chef competition on ballpark fare, historic exhibits and presentations on the science of baseball.

The Cactus League teams will sell tickets and team merchandise. Hall of Fame inductees Ferguson Jenkins,Gaylord Perry and Rollie Fingers will sign autographs.

In addition, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will display spring-training memorabilia from Play Ball — the Cactus League Experience, a collection that includes 3,000 historic photos and collectible items.

“The festival is really the first event of the spring-training season, other than players reporting to camp,” said Robert Johnson, Cactus League Experience project leader. “We want to get the local community engaged earlier and generate some excitement for the Cactus League.”

The Cactus League season opens next Friday with the Oakland Athletics hosting the Seattle Mariners at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. On March 3, the Arizona Diamondbacks open at Salt River Fields with the Colorado Rockies and will send a split squad to Scottsdale Stadium to play the San Francisco Giants.

Games continue through April 3 in the 10 Cactus League stadiums.

The Spring Training Festival will get things started from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Civic Center Mall downtown.

The Mad Science of Baseball symposium will feature some top sports researchers talking about baseball physics and statistical analysis of the game.

Fans, with protective screening, can experience a 100-mph pitch whizzing by and also see what it’s like for umpires to call balls and strikes, said Mark Miller, Charros festival co-chairman.

Jeremy Babendure, Arizona SciTech Festival executive director, has other interactive baseball experiments planned as well.

The festival is a cooperative effort of the Scottsdale Charros civic group, which hosts spring training here, the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Arizona SciTech Festival, the Cactus League Experience and Scottsdale, which provided $75,000 in funding.

“This is an effort to celebrate spring training and recognize our historical roots of the Cactus League,” Johnson said.

Major league teams first trained in Arizona in the early 1900s, and were here to stay when the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants arrived in 1947. The Cactus League got its start in 1954 with four teams — the Indians, Giants, Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles — training in the state.

The league’s historical exhibits in the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts will be on display through March. That includes home movies of the Giants from more than 60 years ago.

Susie Steckner, author of a newly published Cactus League book that includes 200 historical photos, will sign copies of the book, “Cactus League Spring Training.” She will be signing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.

The musical lineup includes James Park and Friends, Dennis Rowland,Nineball,Powerdrive and the Chuck Hall Band.
Food vendors are Bueno Burger,Cholla Grill at Casino Arizona, Dos Gringos, Grassroots,Grimaldi’s Pizza,Kona Ice,RnR, Salty Senorita, Sandbar,Wally’s and the T-Licisious Teasy Tacos food truck.