casa grande's crown jewel
Things To Do
For free monthly updates, event invitations and exclusive deals, sign-up for our newsletter!
Casa Grande's Crown Jewel
By Laurie Davies
March, 2009, Page 52
Photos Courtesy Francisco Grande Hotel and Golf Resort
The hotel’s famous swimming pool is in the shape of a baseball bat, and the hot tub is shaped like a baseball.
The Francisco Grande Hotel kept big-league sluggers out of trouble during spring training. Officials hope football will stage its revival.
In 1961, when Willie Mays launched a 375-foot homerun off Gaylord Perry in Casa Grande’s first Major League Baseball exhibition game, the Francisco Grande Hotel’s baseball fields seemed like they’d be green forever.
There, at the once-ultramodern spring training facility 5 miles west of town on Highway 84, Mays, Perry, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda honed their Hall of Fame skills and inspired a generation of Casa Grande youths to dream of going pro.
“It really started a spring training trend that all the teams have gone to – one stadium and four training fields,” Perry said during a recent visit to the Valley. As for the hotel? “The rooms were small, and I had four kids,” he quipped.
While time – and baseball’s big money – has passed the one-time spring training complex by, the former baseball haven may be reinvented as a training site for the upstart developmental United Football League.
Still, Casa Grande locals savor the baseball era.
The parking area in front of the hotel was originally designed like a baseball diamond, and the flower beds were constructed to resemble bats and balls.
“Half of that team I watched went into the Hall of Fame,” says Cliff Chappell, a Mesa resident who played baseball growing up in Casa Grande. A Giants scout once urged Chappell to come to camp to “meet some people,” so he did.
“Willie Mays was warming up with the catcher, just playing long toss. He never caught the ball conventionally,” Chappell recalls. “He caught it by wrapping his glove around his neck. He caught it through his legs and behind the back. It was like watching the Globetrotters, only it was baseball.”
With “Francisco” borrowed from San Francisco and “Grande” taken from Casa Grande, the Francisco Grande was born out of Giants owner Horace Stoneham’s desire to create a work-stay-and-play atmosphere where his players could train, golf and reside away from big-city temptations. “There, you didn’t have much of a chance of getting into trouble. There weren’t many ladies around,” said the two-time Cy Young Award-winning Perry. “Alvin Dark was our manager, and he loved to golf. We started workouts at 10 a.m. so he could golf by 1 p.m.”
© 2007 Copyright Phoenix Magazine 15169 N. Scottsdale Road Suite C310 Scottsdale Arizona 85254
Travel & Outdoors
Best of The Valley
Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine
Advertise With Us
Web Site Design