Did You Know: Arizona Spring Training Dates Back To 1909

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, April 3, 2015 - 2:05pm
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(Photo courtesy of Rodney Johnson)
Flame Delhi is the first Arizonan to play in major league baseball. He played one game in April 1912 for Chicago White Sox and returned to the minor leagues after that. He returned to Arizona in 1916 to play with the Ray Mining Team.

Since 1947, fans have flocked to Arizona for a bit of baseball under the warm spring sun. But did you know spring training has been part of Arizona for more than 100 years?

The Cactus League was formed in the late 1940s, and the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants were the first two teams in the league.

But this was not Arizona’s introduction to baseball. America’s favorite past time in this state goes back much further than that.

"The earliest spring game for major league team in Arizona was in 1909 in Yuma," said Rodney Johnson, an official scorer for Major League Baseball.

Sitting in empty Tempe Diablo Stadium, Johnson, who also president of the Arizona chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, recalls Arizona’s baseball history.

“The White Sox came through on their way back from spring training in California and made a train stop in Yuma. The game was part of the opening of the Laguna Dam celebration for the city of Yuma,” he said.

Johnson said this was the first spring training game for a major league team in Arizona.

“A lot of baseball teams, they had their spring training in California and the way they made their way back to their home states, to Chicago, to New York, to Cleveland was by train, and on those train trips they stopped at whistle stops to play ballgames, exhibitions. And Arizona was a frequent stop,” Johnson said.

Trains stopped in Yuma, Bisbee, Douglas and Tucson. Johnson says this was Arizona’s first formal introduction to big league baseball. But it wasn’t until 1929 when a major league team decided to make Arizona its spring training site.

“As far as spring training goes, no team other than the 1929 Tigers actually came here and set up camp and had spring training camp here,” Johnson said.

The Detroit Tigers only played a couple games. Johnson said it was the minor leagues that set Arizona on a permanent baseball path.

“The first minor league team or the minor league to be in Arizona was the Rio Grande Valley Association, which was 1916. They had teams in Phoenix and Tucson and as well El Paso and Albuquerque and Las Cruces," said Johnson.

Although the Rio Grande Valley Association league ended after 59 games, other leagues followed — the Arizona State League in 1929 and later the Arizona-Texas League. World War II limited baseball teams' travel, but when it ended, baseball was on the move again. And the Cactus League was born in Arizona.

Even with so much baseball history, it still took Arizona more than 90 years to have its own major league team. The Arizona Diamondbacks took the field for the first time in 1998.


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