As the Mesa Historical Museum’s popular baseball exhibit dedicated to the history of spring training in Arizona enters the mid-innings of its project-planning phase, two portions of it soon will conclude, but at least one locale will remain open for another two years.

On Sunday the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa will close its portion of “Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience,” and on Sept. 11 the 1,000-square-foot portion hosted inside Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Terminal 4 also will close.

However, museum officials and exhibit project leaders are awaiting word from Mesa as to where the next location for the exhibit will be in time for the 2012 spring training season. A large part of it will remain in place at the Arizona Historical Society’s Museum at Papago Park in Tempe until March 2013. Plans are afoot to place portions of the exhibit in other Valley cities.

But two things are for sure: Play Ball, which is in its fourth year of planning, will be expanding with the ultimate goal of one day being housed in a retail space at the Mesa Riverview shopping plaza along Dobson Road across the street from where the city plans to build the new stadium and spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs. When the Play Ball exhibit transforms into its own museum, it possibly could be located at Wrigleyville West, a retail area at the forthcoming spring training ballpark when that component of the project gets under way.

In just four years, Play Ball’s collection of items relating to the history of spring training in Arizona has grown from 100 items and 1,000 square feet to more than 2,000 photographs and artifacts covering 5,000 square feet over three cities. It includes items dating back to when the New York (now San Francisco) Giants and Cleveland Indians were lured to the Grand Canyon state in 1947 with the help of Mesa rancher Dwight Patterson.

The museum recently acquired a large collection of Cleveland Indians spring training programs from the 1940s and ’50s, and rare items related to the Giants from the same period. Project leaders also are working to obtain other large-scale items such as fixtures from long-gone spring training ballparks throughout Arizona, as well as artifacts from the teams.

Lisa Anderson, president and CEO of the Mesa Historical Museum, is happy for the progress the exhibit has made in a relatively short time, but knows there’s much more work ahead and more items on the “wish list” that need to be unearthed for the project, mostly items from teams which trained for short periods of time in Arizona: the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees (in 1951) and Seattle Pilots in Tempe in 1969, the team’s only year of existence. Any items relating to the Detroit Tigers being the first official Major League team to train in Arizona at Riverside Park at Seventh and Mohave streets in Phoenix in 1929 also are being sought.  

“We’re looking at doing something different, but we’re still working things out,” Anderson said. “We are anticipating on expanding the project and waiting to hear back from other cities. We’ve really crossed nontraditional partnerships, and hope to keep doing so as we move forward.”

Valley journalist Susie Steckner also is preparing to meet her deadline next week of submitting her manuscript for “Cactus League,” a book to be published by Arcadia’s Images of America series in time for the 2012 spring training season.

But while Arizona history buffs and baseball fans will have the opportunity to hold part a big part of baseball history in the state with the book, they also will be able to see how the story of spring training unfolded in the state through the exhibit as baseball remains one of the largest tourist draws to the state and Arizona prepares to celebrate its centennial next year.

But preserving history is not just looking for vintage items, Anderson said.

“Although we’re looking to obtain items from some of the teams that trained in Arizona for a short time, we’re also looking for items from teams that recently left Florida to come here such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds,” Anderson said. “We’re always looking for more people to share their items and spring training memories and allow us to copy any photographs they may have that all are part of history.”

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