The Cactus League Experience

Photo by Al Yellon

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- If you're in the Phoenix area for spring training or planning to be, here's something you can do when you're not at one of the games or at another form of entertainment or nightlife in the Valley of the Sun.

"Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience" is a multi-location museum filled with memorabilia from more than six decades' worth of spring training in Arizona. Actually, spring games in Arizona go back all the way to the 1920s and there are photographs from that era in the Experience's newest location, only five minutes' drive from HoHoKam Park, at 51 E. Main St. in Mesa, next to the Mesa Arts Center.

It also contains autographs and other memorabilia from a number of teams in the Cactus League, focusing on the Cubs but also containing several pieces of memorabilia from the Buckhorn Baths, written up in this Sun-Times article earlier this month. The Buckhorn Baths were a motel/spa combination that mostly housed the Giants, but other teams used their facilities until it closed in 1999. They're hoping to re-open it as another museum of spring training history.

The Mesa exhibit is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For people not in Mesa, other portions of the Play Ball Experience -- which has thousands of pieces of spring training memorabilia -- can be seen at the following locations:

  • Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St., through March 30. Admission is free during center hours. Call (480) 499-8587 for information.
  • Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear through April 2. Admission is free with a Cincinnati Reds or Cleveland Indians ticket to a spring training game.
  • Arizona Historical Society Museum at Papago Park in Tempe, 1300 N. College Ave. This exhibit will continue through March 31, 2013. Admission is $5 ($4 for students and seniors) and includes the baseball exhibit. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sunday, noon - 4 p.m.

I've seen the Mesa and Tempe exhibits and will likely stop by the one in Goodyear when I'm there for the Cubs/Indians game on March 25. It's an interesting stop through Cubs (and baseball) history that you might not have known even existed. Incidentally, if you have anything spring-training related you'd like to donate, the museum is always interested in obtaining new memorabilia. If you have anything like this, let me know and I can get you in contact with the right people at the exhibit.

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