The Cactus League kicked of its 70th season in Arizona with a luncheon celebrating the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball and inducting four former players into the its Hall of Fame.
The luncheon, held May 22 at Embassy Suites in Scottsdale, featured a rare appearance by baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Mr. Mays was inducted into the Cactus League Hall of Fame along with Ernie Banks, Monte Irvin and Larry Doby.
The luncheon traditionally serves as the official kick-off of the spring training season in Arizona. Attendees included Major League Baseball team executives, former players, city and county officials, and a number of representatives of nonprofit organizations that assist cities in operating the spring training facilities.
The highlight of the program was the introduction of Willie Mays as one of four new inductees into the Cactus League Hall of Fame. The announcement came as a surprise to Mr. Mays, who told the crowd he was not told in advance why he was to attend the event.
Hall of Fame pitcher and former Chicago Cubs player Ferguson Jenkins accepted the award on behalf of his former teammate Ernie Banks. Mr. Jenkins called Mr. Banks an “eternal optimist” who was always a positive influence on fellow teammates.
Former San Francisco Giants player Monte Irvin and former Cleveland Indians player Larry Doby were also inducted into the Cactus League Hall of Fame. Mr. Doby followed Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball and was the first African-American to play in the American League.
According to Emcee Steve Berthiaume, the four were honored as “pioneers in the historic integration of baseball.”
Mr. Berthiaume, the television announcer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, earlier in the program conducted a lively panel discussion that included Mr. Jenkins, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Junior Spivey and Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry.
Mr. Grant, who once pitched for the Cleveland Indians, shared stories recalling the early days of spring training in Arizona. The Indians played in Tucson when Mr. Grant pitched for the Indians.
The game has changed dramatically for pitchers, said Mr. Grant.
“When they gave me the ball, they expected me to pitch nine innings. If I didn’t, I could be looking for a new job the next day,” joked Mr. Grant.
Mr. Perry and Mr. Ferguson shared their thoughts on how spring training has changed since their days playing in Arizona. Mr. Jenkins recalled how the Cubs trained, practiced and played all their
Cactus League games on one field — compared with today’s facilities that often have multiple practice fields along with the primary game field.
Mr. Perry recalled how he and his wife would “drive my station wagon” to spring training. “When Fergie and I were playing, they gave us $2 a day for meals. Today it’s probably $150 a day,” he said.
The Cactus League Hall of Fame is operated by the Mesa Historical Museum. The Hall of Fame Spring Training Experience is located in The Gallery at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd. in Scottsdale.