Bruner: how the community spirit of Scottsdale once saved America’s Pastime

I enjoyed reading the article about Scottsdale sporting events by Dave Henderson. There is a little known but interesting story about the recent history of spring training in Scottsdale and Arizona.

Jim Bruner

In the late 1980s, Spring Training in Scottsdale, Ariz. was in trouble. The then-Major League Baseball Commissioner, Faye Vincent, told a group of elected officials that the teams loved playing in Arizona, but the stadiums and practice facilities were generally in very poor condition.

He told us that it was up to those of us in Arizona to make improvements or baseball would find alternatives, code word for moving teams to Florida. Those in this meeting included Sen. John McCain, County Supervisor Tom Freestone and me. At that time I was Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

As a result of that meeting the next Arizona legislative session passed a bill creating the Maricopa County Stadium District. I was privileged to chair the newly-created district for the next 3.5 years.

This was the start of the revitalization of spring training facilities, paving the way for 15 teams, one-half of all Major League Baseball teams, now training in metropolitan Phoenix.

This is not the thrust of my story. The real leader in this renaissance was Scottsdale. Scottsdale’s Stadium probably had some charm, but not much else. It was 30-plus years old, wooden, poor facilities for the teams. Rest rooms weren’t very great either.

Enter the leadership of Scottsdale’s City Council, led by our beloved Mayor Herb Drinkwater.

The council decided to send to the Scottsdale voters in November 1989 the question of approval for funding for a new stadium. The original polls were not looking good. Support for public funding was in the low 30s.
This did not deter the city’s leaders. Former Scottsdale City Council member Charlie Smith was selected as the chairman of the group supporting the bonds for the new stadium.

Scottsdale had leaders who told the story of how spring training aided our city by supporting our tourism industry. The host Scottsdale Charros told how the funds raised during Spring Training supported the Scottsdale Boys and Girls Clubs, Hospital Auxiliary, Scottsdale Public Schools, Foundation for the Handicapped and many other groups.

What was the outcome? From a low of 30 percent in the polls the bond measure was passed by over 72 percent! Something unheard for this type of a project.

There is an old saying: “People today are benefiting from the trees planted by others 20-30 years ago.” We have an obligation to plant the trees for those who follow us.

We should express our appreciation for those leaders and citizen who approved funding for our Scottsdale Stadium some years ago.

Editor’s note: Mr. Bruner is a former elected leader, Scottsdale Charro and community advocate

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