MESA, Arizona -- The right-field concourse at Cubs Park, which will be hosting thousands of fans just two days from now, was filled with tables and chairs, balloons and a speaker's platform, for the annual Cactus League kickoff lunch. Members of local civic groups (including the HoHoKams, who will still be helping the Cubs out at the new park), team employees, local dignitaries and fans met for lunch that included samples of fare from the home cities of the Cactus League teams (example: Skyline chili from Cincinnati, a bison slider from Kansas City; the Chicago selection, oddly, was a New York strip steak sandwich).
Then, it was on to speeches from various dignitaries, including Cactus League president Mark Coronado, Laurel Prieb, who is VP of Western operations for Major League Baseball (and, incidentally, he's also Bud Selig's son-in-law), and Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, who once again thanked the Cubs for giving Mesa a chance to help build the new complex.
The highlight of the program was the first six inductions into the Cactus League Hall of Fame, which will become an annual event at this lunch. The six are all considered pioneers in the formation of the Cactus League and in promoting spring training in Arizona. Bill Veeck, Jr., son of the Cubs GM in the 1930s and the man who was responsible for the planting of the ivy at Wrigley and for the iconic scoreboard before he went on to team ownership, was given credit for helping found the Cactus League when he moved his Cleveland Indians from Florida to Arizona in 1947. Former White Sox GM Roland Hemond accepted the award on behalf of the Veeck family. Hemond told stories about working "with" Veeck, not "for" him; Veeck was a "visionary," Hemond said, and said it was truly wonderful to accept the award on his behalf.
Also honored was former Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who joined Veeck in Arizona in 1947. Veeck's granddaughter Jaime Rupert accepted the award on his behalf. Rupert seemed overjoyed that the Cactus League was recognizing Stoneham's contributions to spring baseball in Arizona and said she would love to see her grandfather inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown someday.
You might recognize Dwight Patterson's name -- it adorns the field at HoHoKam Park. Patterson is singlehandedly responsible for getting the Cubs to move their spring camp from Catalina Island to Mesa in 1952, and then returning them to Mesa in 1979 after they had spent a dozen years in Scottsdale. As one of the original HoHoKams, he also helped save spring baseball in Arizona and expand it in the 1980s and 1990s. Dwight's daughter Ann Patterson Cleghorn accepted the award on behalf of her family.
Ted and Alice Sliger operated the Buckhorn Baths, a spa constructed over a mineral spring they discovered in the 1930s. Several generations of Giants players stayed in this resort and spa, and the property is now in the process of being restored. Their son Ted accepted the award on behalf of his parents.
Hi Corbett, who is credited with helping bring the Indians to Tucson, had the stadium there named after him in 1951, and was another inductee this afternoon, with family members also in attendance to accept the honor.
The final inductee, former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford -- who is still around, almost 92 years old, although she couldn't make it to the ceremony -- was honored for her leadership in keeping the Cactus League going in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and helping to bring more teams to spring training in Arizona. Geoffrey Gonsher, an aide to Mofford during her term in office, was there to accept the award for her.
The Cactus League Hall of Fame is a project of the Mesa Historical Museum, which already has a growing "Play Ball" exhibit which you can check out at 51 E. Main St. in Mesa if you're in the area for spring-training games. They hope to eventually have a permanent museum; here's more on the museum and the Cactus League Hall of Fame honorees.
Here's video of Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who spoke to the crowd:
And finally, the afternoon was completed with this Q-and-A session with former Cub Rick Sutcliffe, who showed up in full uniform (as he said, because he had just come from one of the fields where he is serving as a guest instructor), telling funny stories about his time in baseball. The interviewer is E.J. Montini, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, who grew up in Pittsburgh, thus the Pirates cap he wore during the interview.
Enjoy these videos, and there will be spring-training baseball soon!