Here in Casa Grande, AZ, halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, is the Francisco Grande Resort. The Francisco comes from San Francisco and the Grande comes from our Casa. In 1958, after approval from Major League Baseball’s big wigs, the then owner of the New York Giants, Horace Stoneham, moved the team to San Francisco, Willie Mays and all. Now displaced from the norm of Florida spring training, Horace created a seasonal warm up camp in the closer southwest desert, opening Francisco Grande in 1959. After a couple of decades, with MLB league expansion, the spring season “Cactus League” developed and the Giants moved up to Scottsdale to join other teams spending their pre-season warm up time in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
We took the short ride to Francisco yesterday. The baseball stadium is long gone and the acreage today is devoted to a golf course and a large number of soccer fields used by semi pro teams for their own spring training. The hotel lobby and adjoining halls are full of old black and white photos of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichel and others of that great baseball era. They have a well appointed bar named Duke’s after the fact that John Wayne, in between filming western movies in this part of the world, liked to take getaway breaks to watch the team practice back then. One unique icon also remains. The hotel pool is the original and is shaped like a baseball bat.
The visit brought back a childhood memory I enjoy. It is my experience of seeing all three of the old New York baseball teams at their old home fields. My Dad loved baseball. He loved the game and he also dearly loved its emblem as a creation made in America. We grew up 50 miles or so from New York in southwest Connecticut so major league sports were well accessible. My older brother and I were beneficiaries of this as my dad was often given tickets to games that fellow pals of his in our town could not attend. He would buy and go to games, but more often than not, some pal would say, “Eddie, I’ve got three tickets for the Yankees for Thursday, I can’t make it. Want’em?” My Pop had his own retail business and he’d make arrangements for cover of the store and we’d be off. It was the time when afternoon games were the norm. I have these imbedded memories of seeing the New York Giants play at The Polo Grounds stadium, located in Upper Manhattan, sitting out in left field on concrete benches. No seats then out there. That was probably around 1956. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA also in 1958 like the Giants, leaving New York in a big baseball funk. I remember seeing the Dodgers around the same 1956 timeframe, just two years before the move west, at the beloved Ebbets Field, out in Brooklyn. They were called the Brooklyn Bums by those that loved them and by those that did not. Our seats for the game that I remember attending were in a deck up on the 3rd base side and my seat was right behind a steel and bolt girder that supported the seating deck above, the stadium moving upward with its seating. I remember having to move right then left to watch the action on the field as the ball and players moved around. Dodgers and Giants were less frequent events, as we went to see The Yankees at the old and awesome Yankee Stadium more often. I can still visualize in my mind being at a game and seeing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris take the outfield at the start of the top of the first, uniform numbers 7 and 9, and experiencing the immense roar that swelled up from the crowd. Boy, that was really good sports.
My Thanks to Francisco Grande for bringing back these and other mighty fond memories. You never know what you will run into on the road around America.