Monday, March 16, 2009

Detroit hosts first spring training games played in Phoenix, 80 years ago this month

By Ron Matejko

In 1929, the Detroit Tigers became the first Major League Baseball team to base their spring training in Arizona after manager Bucky Harris convinced the Tigers owner that training in the dry climate would benefit the team. They set up camp at Riverside Park in Phoenix for a little more than a month where they played minor league games exclusively against the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. Detroit traveled to California, Texas and Louisiana to play most of the games but they also hosted two games, which were the first spring training games ever played in Phoenix.

The first spring training baseball game took place on March 26, 1929, when the Detroit Tigers played an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which the visitors won 7-4. On the Pirates was star outfielder George Grantham, who was a former Kingman resident.

The second, and final, game that year was on March 27 against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were led by superstar Rogers Hornsby but the team also had three players and a coach with ties to Phoenix. Ace Pitcher Art Nehf was a former Phoenix resident, as was coach Grover Land while pitcher Ivan Green and catcher Earl Green both played at Phoenix High School. The Tigers withstood a five-run rally and scored in the ninth to win 11-10.

According to a story in the March 26, 1929 edition of the Prescott Evening Courier, the two games were considered a tryout for Phoenix to see if the games drew well enough to warrant a team, or for teams to make a permanent move to the Valley for spring training. Apparently it didn’t go as well as hoped as the Tigers didn’t return and spring training didn’t resume in Phoenix until 18 years later.

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