By Joan Fudala
Imagine the town’s excitement on Sunday, Nov. 20, 1955.
Stars of Major League Baseball teams were here to play in the inaugural event at the brand new Scottsdale Ballpark. The Scottsdale Optimist Club band, “Umbie’s Crumbies,” warmed up the crowd of 10,000 as an inspection party of local officials welcomed Scottsdalians to their new sports facility on undeveloped Osborn Road. During the exhibition game, Cincinnati Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski hit the first homer out of the park on a pitch from Jim Wilson of the Baltimore Orioles.
Sixty years, a complete rebuild and thousands of events later, Scottsdale Stadium continues to be the epicenter for international sports, community celebrations and public and private functions of all types. Although it’s best known for baseball, Scottsdale Stadium is, or has been, home to professional soccer, rugby, concerts, memorial services, weddings, Fourth of July fireworks, sleepovers, corporate events, Scottsdale Leadership seminars, walk-a-thons, culinary events, town halls and so much more.
Did you know…
- In 1954-55, the Civic Coordinating Council of Scottsdale (an umbrella organization representing the town’s major nonprofit groups) purchased land now occupied by Scottsdale Stadium from farmers Clara and Harry Poppe and Adobe House Guest Ranch owner Mildred Barthalow for use as a town recreational site.
- The Scottsdale Baseball Club organized on or about May 1, 1955. Its mission was to build a ballpark so that a Major League Baseball team could be attracted to hold its Spring Training games in Scottsdale, and become part of the small but promising Cactus League. Initial contact was made with the Baltimore Orioles, who expressed interest. Founding members of the Scottsdale Baseball Club Board of Directors included: Bill Weirich, president; Jack Stewart, vice president; Jack Adams, secretary; R.B. (Rollie) Feltman, treasurer; and George Botsford, Ray Rubicam and Walker McCune as directors.
- The Scottsdale Baseball Club met at the Pink Pony and came up with a plan. They leased land from the Civic Coordinating Council, and pre-sold box seats to help raise money to build the ballpark on Osborn Road.
- Ground was broken for the 3,000-seat Scottsdale Ballpark on June 20, 1955. Construction cost was $72,000, paid for by pre-selling seats, negotiating contractor dispensations, a donation from the Civic Coordinating Council and personal loans by members of the Baseball Club. Construction was completed in October 1955.
- Charlie Briley—Pink Pony owner, Scottsdale Baseball Club member and funder of the ballpark’s first scoreboard—recalled the Nov. 20, 1955, preview party in the March 5, 1991, issue of the Scottsdale Progress: “It looked like Yankee Stadium to me that day, the park was beautiful and the folks loved it.”
- In late February 1956, the Baltimore Orioles became the first team to hold Spring Training in Scottsdale Stadium, returning through the 1958 spring preseason. Brooks Robinson began his 23-year tenure with the Orioles here. Arizona Gov. Ernest McFarland threw out the first pitch at opening day, March 9, 1956, and the Orioles beat the Chicago Cubs. Girls in Scottsdale High School’s Beaver Builders club served as ushers, and local banks furnished ticket sellers. The Mutual Network broadcast the game on radio to fans in Baltimore and Chicago, and interviewed Orioles Manager Paul Richards, Orioles announcer Ernie Harwell and Scottsdale Baseball Club President Bill Weirich. The Scottsdale VFW Post 3515 presented a flag that would be flown at the new ballpark. Box seats were $2.50, reserved seats $1.75 and general admission $1, with children and students admitted for 50 cents. Scottsdale Baseball Club members ran the ballpark.
- After Spring Training, the ballpark was used by the Scottsdale Blues men’s baseball team. Arizona’s Official Historian Marshall Trimble often speaks of his time as a member of the Glendale Grays team, playing against the Blues in the then-new Scottsdale ballpark, and imagining the Orioles playing on the same turf.
- The Boston Red Sox replaced the Orioles as Scottsdale’s Spring Training team in 1959, staying through the 1965 spring season. Ted Williams played his last two seasons here, and Carl Yastrzemski debuted. The Cactus League was comprised at the time of only four teams: the Sox, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
- In 1960, the Town of Scottsdale entered into a lease/purchase agreement on the Civic Coordinating Council’s 27 acres of land, and an improvement agreement between the Town and the Scottsdale Baseball Club. The Town, and later the City, made the ballpark bond payments until 1970, and maintained the ballpark’s grounds and facilities.
- At the urging of the senior members of the Baseball Club, a new, younger group of businessmen formed in 1961 to support and promote sports in Scottsdale: the Scottsdale Charros. One of their first hands-on ballpark projects was to paint the entire facility one Saturday in February 1962. The Charros formally assumed responsibility for hosting Spring Training in late 1964, signing a contract with the City of Scottsdale, which now owned the ballpark.
- In October 1964, the Los Angeles Angels contracted to use the ballpark for a fall instructional league.
- December 1964 was a low point for Scottsdale’s ballpark. First, the Boston Red Sox announced they were moving their spring games to Florida after the 1965 season, then there were several fires blamed on vandalism at the ballpark.
- While the Scottsdale Charros and the City were scouting a new Spring Training team, the 1966 spring season came and went without a major league team in residence. The University of Michigan baseball team, however, held its spring training at the Scottsdale ballpark, and the Chicago Cubs held fall instructional league play in Scottsdale.
- Scottsdale, the Charros and Chicago fans welcomed the Chicago Cubs as the new spring residents of the Scottsdale ballpark in March 1967. California Gov. Ronald Reagan attended a game that year, as did his mother-in-law Edith Davis. Cubs manager Leo Durocher and players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams drew big crowds to the expanded 4,200-seat ballpark.
- During the Cubs’ inaugural season at Scottsdale’s ballpark, members of the Baptist Hospital of Scottsdale, located across Ballpark Plaza (now Drinkwater Boulevard), began parking cars at Spring Training games. Donations from drivers helped pay for hospital equipment and patient amenities. The auxiliary—now part of HonorHealth—continued to have a long and productive relationship with the Charros, Scottsdale Stadium and baseball fans.
- During the 1960s and 1970s, Scottsdale’s Fourth of July fireworks were held at the ballpark, sponsored either by the American Legion or the Scottsdale Jaycees.
- By the 1970s, the wooden ballpark was showing its age, and the Cubs complained about its deteriorating condition. There was talk about relocating the ballpark; a site in Paradise Valley that was part of McCormick Park on Scottsdale Road was one suggestion. It was decided that the current location was best, and improvements would be made to the existing structure and grounds, partially funded by a “bed tax” enacted by voters in 1977.
- Despite the pending ballpark improvements, the Cubs opted to move to Mesa after their 1978 spring season. Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s quickly stepped in as a spring replacement in 1979, staying for three March seasons.
- The San Francisco Giants and the Scottsdale Charros announced in spring 1979 that the Giants would move to Scottsdale, beginning in March 1982. The Giants loved Scottsdale, but not so much the aging ball park. The city, the Mayor’s Baseball Committee and the Charros recommended a complete rebuild, and bond funding for a new $8.4 million multipurpose stadium was placed before Scottsdale voters in November 1989. One of 12 bond propositions on the ballot, the stadium issue passed with a 70 percent approval.
- Following the 1991 Giants’ spring season, the 1955-vintage ballpark was demolished, and a state-of-the-art, 10,000-seat brick stadium rose in its historic place. Scottsdale Stadium opened in late February 1992 with a public open house and San Francisco Giants Spring Training. For the first time, lights were added, and teams could finally play night games in Scottsdale.
- The minor league Phoenix Firebirds moved from Phoenix Municipal Stadium to Scottsdale’s new stadium in April 1992, playing throughout the summer, and until 1997 when the team moved to Fresno.
- Major League Baseball’s Arizona Fall League’s Scottsdale Scorpions began play in October 1993 at Scottsdale Stadium. Basketball great Michael Jordan, trying his hand at playing baseball for the Birmingham Barons, played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 1995 Fall League games. Next time you’re at the stadium, stop by the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame display in the concourse and marvel at all of the all-stars who have played here.
- To keep pace with the times, and a much larger Cactus League that was comprised of 15 major league teams by 2011, Scottsdale Stadium underwent a renovation in 2006 with a practice field co-located just east of the stadium.
- Living up to its name as a multipurpose facility, the new Scottsdale Stadium immediately began hosting public and private events of all kinds. Among the so-not-baseball events have included: dance performances during the 1993 America-Japan Week, Scottsdale Symphony concerts, delivery of a Super Bowl XXX game ball by the Hashknife Pony Express in January 1996, meetings and seminars in the spacious press box, an Arizona Town Hall to discuss Downtown Scottsdale issues, weddings, a Salsa Challenge, bar and bat mitzvahs, corporate rallies, walks benefitting ALS and the Susan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer event, the Cardboard City campout, Date Night and so much more. In early August 2015, more than 800 eligible Scottsdale students received clothing, supplies and health checks at a community back-to-school event at the stadium.
- But it’s best known as a sports venue. Arizona United holds its professional soccer games at Scottsdale Stadium from April to September. The Mercedes Benz of Scottsdale’s Rugby Bowl played here in Spring 2015. During a 2014 exchange program, a Taiwanese Little League team played in the stadium. Many local Little League teams and Scottsdale area high school baseball teams have played here. The Seniors Softball World Series had often played here, as well as the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2013. The Charros have hosted thousands at the Youth Baseball Luncheon and Clinic during Spring Training.
- One particularly poignant event took place at Scottsdale Stadium on Sept. 13, 2001: a communitywide candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Attendees signed a banner, which then-Mayor Mary Manross took to The Pentagon for display in its corridors.
- One of the most significant legacies of the ballpark/stadium’s 60 years is its economic impact. Not only has it generated sales tax dollars, tourism and employment, but through the Scottsdale Charros and Spring Training baseball, the stadium has generated millions in charitable returns to Scottsdale-area organizations, particularly those benefiting youth and education.
Want more information, want to commemorate someone with a home plate display, or want to hold an event at Scottsdale Stadium? See http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/scottsdale-stadium
Sixty years, great memories and so much history. The good times, world championship baseball, famous athletes, fundraisers to benefit a myriad of local charities, and its service as a place for the community to congregate will keep Scottsdale Stadium in our hearts for at least 60 years to come.