Phoenix Municipal Stadium: An Appreciation

This venerable ballpark has hosted spring-training games for 50 years. 2014 will be the last such season.

PHOENIX, Arizona -- Though the Cubs were never the home team for spring training at Phoenix Municipal Stadium (affectionately known in the Valley as "Phoenix Muni"), I felt a certain sentimentality at walking out of that ballpark after the Cubs' 10-6 win over the Athletics Sunday afternoon, the final game a Cubs team will play at the 50-year-old stadium.

That's because the very first spring-training game I ever attended was at Phoenix Muni, a 7-5 Cubs loss to the A's on March 7, 1984, a little more than 30 years ago. More on that in a moment; first, a bit of history.

By 1984, the stadium had been hosting spring games for 20 years, first as the spring home of the Giants from 1964-81. The Giants had already been training in the Valley of the Sun for more than a decade when they moved into the brand-new Phoenix Muni March 8, 1964, in front of what was then considered a huge spring-training crowd of 8,582. The light poles at Phoenix Muni were from the Polo Grounds in New York; Giants owner Horace Stoneham had them brought to Arizona, and there they stand today, still functional. Willie Mays hit the first home run at Phoenix Muni.

The Giants had a long history at Phoenix Muni. Not only was it their spring home for 18 seasons, but the Triple-A Phoenix Giants (later Firebirds) played there from 1966-91, then moving to Scottsdale Stadium when it opened in 1992.

But it was the A's who made Phoenix Muni their own, with occasionally raucous crowds yelling, "Let's Go Oak-land!", as some of them did even Sunday afternoon trying to exhort their heroes into a late-inning rally.

It wasn't that way when I first walked into Phoenix Muni. Things were much more casual around spring training back then. I remember buying a box-seat ticket... for $3. The attendance that day, an afternoon I remember as sunny and pleasant, was 1,992. In looking up the boxscore and details, I discovered that Tim Stoddard, a key member of the 1984 Cubs bullpen, had thrown that day... for the A's. Dallas Green traded for Stoddard about three weeks later, giving up a minor leaguer named Stan Boderick, in that spring when he was wheeling and dealing after the Cubs lost 13 games in a row.

Other than that, the game as I recall it, and as remembered through the box score, was unremarkable; it was the first game of that spring season. What was interesting was this Tribune note from the next day's paper:

Ferguson Jenkins' future with the Cubs could be on the line when he takes the mound Friday against the A's in Mesa. General manager Dallas Green could be inclined to make an early decision on the 40-year-old Jenkins, who is 16 victories shy of 300.

I remember seeing that game, too; Jenkins got hit hard (seven hits and five runs in two innings) and really had nothing left. He blasted Green in the media ("Dallas Green doesn't talk to me. Jim Frey wouldn't even look me in the face," Jenkins was quoted as saying in the Tribune after Frey pulled him.) He was indeed cut not long after that; no one could have known at the time that team would be in the playoffs seven months later.

Back to Phoenix Muni -- you know, it's not a bad little ballpark. There's some shade, but most of the seats are in the sun. There's no berm, though they could have constructed one in left field during the park's 2006 renovation if they'd chosen to. Sightlines are excellent, it's easy to get to (and in and out of), the A's employees are friendly, concession prices are reasonable, and every time I've gone back there over the last 30 years, I've been able to feel a little bit of what spring training was when I first started coming to Arizona in March, instead of giant complexes with acres of parking, $12 beer and high souvenir prices that we have now.

Sure, those fill needs both for team training and fan amenities, and they're almost all really nice ballparks. The A's needed something better -- their practice fields are a mile or so up the road and the entire Oakland spring-training setup isn't what a modern team needs (though that hasn't stopped them from back-to-back division titles the last two years). A year from now, they'll move into HoHoKam Park, with practice fields at Fitch Park, as the Cubs did, after both are renovated, and it'll be odd to return to that location as a fan of the visiting team.

So I'll miss Phoenix Muni, the last vestige of the old Cactus League, spring training as it used to be. The park isn't going away, as Arizona State baseball is moving in next year. Maybe I'll take in an ASU game or two there, just to keep the old-time baseball feeling a little bit longer. Enjoy the photos above, from the Cubs' final visit to good ol' Phoenix Muni.

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