casa grande's crown jewel
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Casa Grande's Crown Jewel
By Laurie Davies
March, 2009, Page 52
Casa Grande native Gloria Chappell remembers the town’s love affair with the players. Mays tooled around town in a pink Cadillac with vanity “Say Hey” license plates. “People were always rubber-necking, hoping we’d see someone,” she says. Some players attended Catholic Mass, and Chappell says female attendance spiked accordingly. “The girls not only came to Mass more often, but they were dolled up more,” she recalls.
Official Cactus League games were played at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. But the club’s major and minor league teams held intrasquad games and trained at the Francisco Grande until 1979. The California Angels brought baseball greats Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson to Casa Grande during a brief training stint from 1982 to 1984. The United States Football League’s Arizona Wranglers and Denver Gold also trained there in the early 1980s.
Eventually, the Grande’s A-list luster waned, and it closed for a period. Kerr says stadium bleachers were moved to the rodeo grounds and light fixtures were donated to the high school. Only the dated observation tower, where managers including Dark and Charlie Fox oversaw drills, remains. The hotel completed an $8.5 million remodel in 2003.
Ironically, the City of Casa Grande may again be erecting light fixtures over the former baseball fields as it moves closer to buying 40 acres from the Francisco Grande and building a $20 million, eight-field football training complex for the UFL.
In a recession-marred climate in which the Arena Football League is suspending its 2009 season, Casa Grande management analyst Lamar Johnson acknowledges the risk of partnering with a football league that has yet to play a game. Still, he says, Casa Grande officials are hopeful the UFL will once again provide a professional-caliber sports presence in their city.
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