My first spring training was in 1962. The Red Sox were part of the Cactus League after vacating Payne Park in Sarasota back in the late 1950s. This venture was a “Thanks, Dad!,” as it was a present or parental guilt. I am not sure nor do I care since it represented time off school watching baseball. So for a few weeks I accompanied my father on a business trip to the Phoenix area and had the opportunity to observe baseball in a very casual setting.
Scottsdale is to Phoenix as Cambridge is to Boston. When you mention Boston it is actually somewhat all encompassing since to the locals it will mean Somerville, Cambridge, Revere and even Quincy: The greater Metro area. Phoenix has that same symbiotic relationship with the surrounding communities.
The whole area had not been developed anywhere close to what it is today. Very little congestion and from visits through the years that is now only a pleasant memory.
Our accommodations had some baseball people – either connected directly with the team or media. In those days Boston had several newspapers and the smaller dailies also sent baseball reporters to cover spring training. Newspapers were still king but radio and TV were making serious advances and were also represented.
The Red Sox trained at Scottsdale Stadium and appeared to play the Chicago Cubs or Houston Colt .45s in every game. The Colts were especially enjoyable since they had a few players who appeared my age or I was familiar with. The league was known, as it is today, The Cactus League, but I recall only a handful of teams committed to the league.
Houston appeared to be a rather carefree lot made up of the usual expansion flotsam and jetsam. George Brunet was on that team and was a willing participant in handing out autographs and photo opportunities to anyone who asked. Brunet ended up playing into his 50s – mostly in Mexico. Houston also had two former New York players on their roster – Bobby Shantz and Bob Cerv. Both on the tail end of their careers.
The Red Sox were coming off a dismal 1961 season, one of a string of dismal seasons, until 1967. The star of camp was Rookie of The Year, Don Schwall. Unfortunately that 1961 was essentially his career. The other rookies of note from 1961 were Carl Yastrzemski and Chuck Schilling. What I remember most about Yaz is what appeared to be an ever present cigarette.
In 1962 spring training was significantly different than today. You had the usual influx of media but it was more of a combination frat party and lounging at the poolside bar. I will not go into details but the boys could certainly put down the suds. This was not a few days or a week and you go home. Media stayed to the bitter end or last call.
Accessibility to players is far more fan friendly in spring training. And in Scottsdale you could even occasionally walk out on the field. Fan attendance was meager and electronic media indulgence decades away. I was never an autograph collector but in those days a signing was virtually a guarantee for those who came prepared. One remembrance I have is when Gary Geiger, the resident center fielder, requested I play catch with him. Just tossed the ball back and forth and chatted. Geiger just wandered over to me and asked if I wanted to toss the ball? Even handed me a glove.
Probably the biggest star in camp was not a player but the team announcer – Curt Gowdy. Gowdy was already a broadcast star and would soon be a broadcast legend. While I was there the entire broadcast team showed up and I remember Art Gleeson holding court with younger fans and collaring players to say a few words. Art was the jovial sort who would spin baseball tales when the day was done.
One thing I remember clearly is my father hauling both of us over to Monti’s Steak House in Tempe. This was a place where players would go since it was beef and plenty of it. The place was packed and fans were mixing with players. The impression of Monti’s was so strong that when I have returned to the Phoenix area over the years it is an absolute must place to go.
Since 1962 I have spent one spring visit of only a few days in Winter Haven and a similar one in Fort Myers. Seems the commercial aspect of spring training is now in full force as it has become a destination trip for many fans. The new ballpark is suppose to be spectacular and tickets are hard to come by. You also seem a bit more restricted as far as roaming around either the major league or minor league complex. Times they are a changin’.
Tags: Boston Red Sox