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The Red Sox were once part of the Cactus League

Tonight’s visitors to the Valley trained there for a decade, many years ago.

The Red Sox and Cubs in spring action at Scottsdale Stadium in 1961
Bettmann Archive

MESA, Arizona — Technically, tonight’s Cubs vs. Red Sox game is not a “Cactus League game” because the Red Sox are not part of the Cactus League.

However... they used to be. From 1956-65 the Red Sox trained at the original Scottsdale Stadium, before relocating their spring camp to Winter Haven, Florida, and in 1993 to Fort Myers, Florida. In fact, when the Red Sox left Arizona, after a one-year hiatus Scottsdale Stadium became the Cubs’ spring home from 1967-79, after which they moved to Mesa. (The Cubs also trained in Mesa from 1952-65.)

At the top of this post is a photo from a Cubs/Red Sox spring training game March 12, 1961. Outfielder Al Heist was the Cubs baserunner thrown out trying to steal, thus belying his last name. The Red Sox infielder is Pete Runnels, who took a perfect throw from catcher Jim Pagliaroni. The umpire calling the play is John Rice.

In the Tribune, Edward Prell recapped the Cubs’ 7-3 loss to Boston that day:

The crowd of 3,103, which had watched Gov. Fannin throw out the first ball from his box seat to home plate, saw Frank Malzone show there are more worthwhile purposes for one. He belted a three run homer in the fourth inning, softening up Dick Ellsworth for the knockout before Dick had retired anyone.

A couple of things about that quote. 3,103 would have been considered a really good crowd for a spring game in 1961. Also, in that era ceremonial pitches were generally thrown from the box seats rather than the mound; the mound throws of ceremonial pitches didn’t begin until (to my recollection) the late 1970s or early 1980s.

I don’t believe the Red Sox have played a game at an Arizona spring training facility since they departed the Cactus League 54 years ago.

So welcome back, Red Sox. These teams played a pair of exhibition games at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida last March, with the Red Sox winning both games by 4-2 scores and last met in the regular season in April 2017 at Fenway Park with the Red Sox taking two of three.