WHO NEEDS A BEACH?

Spring base­ball also thrives in the Cac­tus League

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY TOM O’GRADY JR. Tom O’Grady Jr. is an author and free­lance writer liv­ing in Palm Coast, Florida.

Spring base­ball also thrives in the Cac­tus League

Base­ball play­ers and their fans, es­pe­cially North­east­ern­ers es­cap­ing the rem­nants of win­ter, love the sunny, dry, blue-sky days that Florida pro­vides ev­ery March. But what about those Mid­west­ern­ers and “Left Coast­ers”? Where do they find their great Amer­i­can pas­time with­out coun­try-wide travel plans?

The an­swer is Ari­zona, an­other state guar­an­teed to pro­vide clas­sic base­ball weather in spring. Since the 1920s, ma­jor league teams have var­ied their train­ing lo­ca­tions, opt­ing for Florida for a few years and then Ari­zona for oth­ers, eco­nom­ics be­ing the great de­cider.

With the Detroit Tigers lead­ing the way in 1929, the “Cac­tus League” be­gan, un­of­fi­cially. But when that ven­ture was al­most dy­ing in the late 1960s, the Ari­zona Base­ball Com­mis­sion was cre­ated, and the wheel­ing and deal­ing be­gan. New sta­dium deals and fresh MLB teams found each other—while lov­ing fans, such as in Florida, showed their sup­port by show­ing up. The re­sult to­day is 15 teams spread across Phoenix and seven other nearby towns, cre­at­ing a “pop-up” econ­omy that serves the area well.

Philadel­phian Brian O’Grady, a Cincin­nati Reds eighth-round draft pick (and my nephew), has spent the last three springs play­ing in the Cac­tus League in Goodyear Sta­dium, a park that the Reds share with the Cleve­land In­di­ans. “It’s fun,” he ex­plains. “It’s re­ally laid-back. Fans walk around any­where with play­ers.”

When asked about the weather, he points out a slight dif­fer­ence be­tween the Cac­tus League and the “Grape­fruit League” of Florida: “Ari­zona has per­fect base­ball weather [in spring]. You get some re­ally cold morn­ings in Florida, dur­ing work­outs. Out there, it’s warm all the time.”

But O’Grady loves when the reg­u­lar sea­son be­gins. He’s spent three sea­sons on Cincin­nati teams in the Florida cities of Day­tona Beach and Pen­sacola. He thrives on the heat. “Oh,” he says, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, “I love Florida.”

Ari­zona has per­fect base­ball weather [in spring]. You get some re­ally cold morn­ings in Florida, dur­ing work­outs. Out there, it’s warm all the time.” —Brian O’Grady

Cincin­nati Reds eighth-round draft pick Brian O’Grady en­joys play­ing in the Ari­zona spring­time, call­ing it “per­fect base­ball weather.”

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