New Arizona organization celebrates baseball - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

New Arizona organization celebrates baseball

April 16th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
New Arizona organization celebrates baseball
Sports and Recreation

By Mike Phillips
Guest Writer

Baseball is back.

But baseball never really leaves the Arizona desert. It’s a year-round enterprise woven into our economy, culture and history. While the Cactus League rules March and the Diamondbacks dominate summer, there is a never-ending menu of baseball on local diamonds.

Between the Fall League, extended spring training, instructional and rookie leagues, college, high school and Little League, you can find a game on almost every day of the year.

A new nonprofit seeks to celebrate that heritage and educate the public about its impact and significance. It’s called Arizona Baseball Legacy and Experience – ABLE, for short.

Arizona’s long been a destination for baseball insiders and fans. The Society for American Baseball Research (the Moneyball people), chose Phoenix as its headquarters a decade ago after a national search.

The annual NINE Conference takes place every year in Tempe. It brings together baseball writers, scholars and other aficionados to explore among other things the history, law, sociology, literature, media and architecture of baseball.

The event took place earlier this month despite the Major League lockout. One of NINE’s highlights is presentation of the Seymour Medal Award, which goes to the best baseball book of the year. The 2022 winner is author Steve Treder for “Forty Years a Giant: The Life of Horace Stoneham.”

Stoneham owned the San Francisco Giants for 40 years, starting in 1936. He and the Indian’s Bill Veeck relocated their clubs from Florida to Arizona in 1947, starting the westward movement of teams that created the Cactus League.

Today, half of Major League Baseball trains in the Valley. The six weeks of Cactus League bring an economic windfall of nearly $650 million, roughly the impact of a Super Bowl, every year.

Baseball radiates here, it’s as much a part of our landscape as granite mountain peaks and swimming pools. We are, without doubt, the center of the baseball universe.

That’s a title to cherish, cultivate and celebrate. And that’s the mission of ABLE.

Our organization seeks to honor and recognize all things Arizona baseball. That’s a huge goal and one that we know will take time to achieve. But we’re taking first steps. We’re partnering this spring with the Mesa Historical Museum on an exhibit focused on the Cactus League Hall of Fame. Every member of the Hall of Fame has a story, part of a mosaic that speaks to the magic and allure of Arizona baseball.

Tour the exhibit and you’ll learn the journey of Yosh Kawano, who as a child in 1935 stowed away on a boat to attend Cubs training games on Catalina Island. His daring adventure launched a seven-decade career as an equipment manager for Major League clubs.

Between his Catalina escapade and his Major League career, Kawano was held at a World War II Japanese internment camp near Yuma. That, too, is part of his story and part of the Mesa exhibit. Kawano’s camp would grow to 18,000 residents, making it the third largest “city” in Arizona.

Baseball, already deeply ingrained in Japanese American culture, would become the No. 1 pastime at the camps.

Baseball, many internees say, helped them cope with the isolation and pain of that dark time. At one camp near Maricopa, there were 32 teams competing in three different leagues. Games drew thousands of spectators. On display in Mesa are stories from that era plus a jersey, baseball, photos and a championship banner.

Yosh Kawano’s unlikely voyage and the internment camp leagues are just two of many stories you’ll discover at the Mesa exhibit. Each one is part of our collective heritage and a connection to a game that’s ingrained in our society and geography.

Baseball is America’s game and a gem in the crown of our state. Arizona Baseball Legacy ad Experience seeks to celebrate that relationship — past, present and future.   

Learn more by visiting us online at and check out the Mesa Historical Museum exhibit. The museum, 2345 N. Horne Road, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for youth 6-17. Museum members and children 5 and under are free.

Mike Phillips is board president of the nonprofit Arizona Baseball Legacy and Experience.