Arizona’s New Organization Celebrates Baseball

By Mike Phillips
Guest Writer

Baseball is back.

But baseball never really leaves the Arizona desert. It’s a year-round business that’s woven into our economy, our culture and our history. With the Cactus League reigning in March and the Diamondbacks dominating the summer, there’s an endless menu of local diamond baseball.

Between Fall League, Extended Spring Training, Instructional and Rookie Leagues, Middle School, High School, and Little League, you can find a game almost any day of the year.

A new nonprofit seeks to celebrate this legacy and educate the public about its impact and significance. It’s called Arizona Baseball Legacy and Experience – ABLE, for short.

Arizona has long been a destination for baseball insiders and fans. The Society for American Baseball Research (the folks at Moneyball) chose Phoenix as their headquarters ten years ago after a national search.

The annual NINE conference is held annually in Tempe. It brings together writers, scholars, and other baseball aficionados to explore the history, law, sociology, literature, media, and architecture of baseball, among other things.

The event took place earlier this month despite the Major League lockdown. One of the highlights of NINE is the presentation of the Seymour Medal, which recognizes the best baseball book of the year. The 2022 winner is author Steve Treder for “Forty Years a Giant: The Life of Horace Stoneham.”

Stoneham owned the San Francisco Giants for 40 years, beginning in 1936. He and Indian Bill Veeck moved their clubs from Florida to Arizona in 1947, sparking the westward movement of the teams that created the Cactus League.

Today, half of Major League Baseball’s players train in the valley. The six weeks of Cactus League bring an economic windfall of nearly $650 million, roughly the impact of a Super Bowl, each year.

Baseball shines here, it’s as much a part of our landscape as the granite peaks and swimming pools. We are, without a doubt, the center of the baseball universe.

It is a title to cherish, cultivate and celebrate. And that’s ABLE’s mission.

Our organization seeks to honor and recognize all things baseball in Arizona. This is a huge goal and we know it will take time to achieve. But we are taking the first steps. We’re partnering this spring with the Mesa Historical Museum for an exhibit focused on the Cactus League Hall of Fame. Each Hall of Famer has a story, part of a mosaic that speaks to the magic and allure of baseball in Arizona.

Visit the exhibit and learn about the journey of Yosh Kawano, who as a child in 1935 stowed away on a boat to watch Cubs practice games on Catalina Island. His daring adventure launched a seven-decade career as an equipment manager for Major League clubs.

Between his Catalina getaway and his Major League career, Kawano was held in a World War II Japanese internment camp near Yuma. This too is part of its history and of the Mesa exhibit. Kawano Camp would grow to 18,000, making it the third largest “town” in Arizona.

Baseball, already deeply embedded in Japanese-American culture, would become the camps’ No. 1 pastime.

Baseball, many internees say, helped them cope with the isolation and pain of that dark time. At a camp near Maricopa, 32 teams were competing in three different leagues. The games drew thousands of spectators. Stories from that era are on display at Mesa, along with a jersey, baseball, photos, and a championship banner.

Yosh Kawano’s unlikely journey and the leagues of internment camps are just two of the many stories you’ll discover at the Mesa exhibit. Each is part of our collective heritage and is linked to a game rooted in our society and our geography.

Baseball is the American game and a jewel in our state’s crown. Arizona Baseball Legacy ad Experience seeks to celebrate this relationship – past, present and future.

Learn more by visiting us online at ABLEAZ.org and check out the Mesa Historical Museum exhibit. The museum, 2345 N. Horne Road, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for youth ages 6-17. Museum members and children 5 and under are free.

Mike Phillips is chairman of the board of the nonprofit Arizona Baseball Legacy and Experience.