A multimedia history project dedicated to preserving the history of spring training in Arizona is one step closer to getting a museum of its own in Mesa.

But the Mesa Historical Museum’s ongoing exhibit, Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience, is at a critical stage, and organizers say they need to forge more partnerships with the 15 Major League teams that now train in the state.

“We’re making good progress,” said Robert Johnson, project leader for the Play Ball exhibit. “The project has really evolved and the interest level has grown in the last two and a half years. We’re really building a collection that’s one-of-a-kind in the country, but we need more teams to come on board. This isn’t an exhibit of just one team, but features something from every team that calls Arizona its spring training home.”

Because of the rapid growth of the collection’s historical and contemporary artifacts, which have come to number 800 in the last three years, the Mesa Historical Museum will display elements of the exhibit at three venues throughout the Valley in preparation for the eventual return to an independent museum in Mesa.

The collection will have its grand opening 10 a.m. Saturday at the Arizona Historical Society’s Museum at Papago Park in Tempe, a 3,000-square-foot exhibit featuring more than 400 items. The same day, a 1,000-square-foot exhibition will open inside Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in time to greet visitors arriving in the Valley for spring training. On Feb. 27, the Mesa portion of the exhibit will open at the Arizona Museum for Youth.

Visitors will get to see some items for the first time, including a silver serving tray engraved with the signatures of the 1952 New York Giants that was given to Ted and Alice Sliger, owners of the Buckhorn Mineral Baths in Mesa where the Giants once stayed.

They’ll also get to see rare programs for the 1951 New York Yankees when they trained at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and the 1969 Seattle Pilots — the only year of the Pilots’ existence, when they trained at Tempe Diablo Stadium before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers a year later.

A Chicago Cubs spring training program from 1952 — the team’s first year at Rendezvous Park in Mesa — also recently was acquired from Ann Patterson Cleghorn, the daughter of rancher Dwight Patterson, who is credited as being one of the founding fathers of spring training in Arizona.

Most recently, Johnson obtained eight scoreboard numbers that were used at the original Scottsdale Stadium in 1956 when the Baltimore Orioles trained there. The numbers, made out of particle board, were retrieved from storage in the early 1990s and recently acquired from a former Scottsdale city worker who now lives in California.

“The thing we have to show people is that we’re growing, and we’re continuing to grow,” said Robert Brinton, president of the Mesa Visitors and Convention Bureau. “We’re now at the level where we can command respect. As people see this, they’re going to say, ‘I have this in my closet.’ ”

Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience

When: Grand opening 10 a.m. Saturday. Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: The Arizona Historical Society’s Museum at Papago Park, 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe,

Cost: $5 admission. $4 for seniors (60-and-older) and ages 12-18, free for 11 and younger. On Feb. 27, the Mesa portion of the exhibit will open at the Arizona Museum for Youth, 35 N. Robson St., Mesa and run through Aug. 7.

Information: http://www.mesahistoricalmuseum.org, http://www.playballexperience.com or (480) 929-0292.

Related events

Book signing with Howard Bryant, author of “The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron”

When: Noon to 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Museum at Papago Park, 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe

Cost: $29.95 (plus tax)

Autograph session with 2010 “Almost Perfect Game” pitcher Armando Gallaraga

When: 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Museum at Papago Park, 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe

Cost: $30 per autograph (includes admission).

Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson autographed baseball raffle

When: Raffle tickets go on sale Friday and run through March 26 to win one of 100 signed balls.

Where: Museum at Papago Park, 1300 N. College Ave., Tempe

Cost: $100 per ticket, with 300 tickets available. If all are sold, Johnson will personally hand each winner their baseball.

Note: Part of the proceeds from these events go toward Mesa Historical Museum for the Play Ball exhibit.

CONTACT WRITER: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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