After an abbreviated 2020 Major League Baseball season that saw last year’s spring training season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, baseball fans anxiously await the start of this year’s Cactus League season that begins with pitchers and catchers reporting in February, pending decisions by MLB officials.
In the West Valley, there are plenty of options for fans to view their favorite teams. Expansive facilities hosting multiple teams exist in Peoria, Surprise, Glendale and Goodyear. But at one time there was only one spring training facility that existed in the West Valley, and that facility was located in Sun City.
The ballpark, once located on the northwest corner of 111th and Grand avenues, served for many years as the Cactus League home to the Milwaukee Brewers. Major League Baseball icons and Hall of Famers such as the late “Hammerin” Hank Aaron and star pitcher Rollie Fingers played in Sun City for the Brewers. The list of other great ballplayers who graced the field at Sun City Stadium include Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins and more.
The stadium is a now a distant memory from the past. With the exception of the outfield wall, the facility has long-since disappeared and been replaced by The Fountains of Sun City senior apartments.
How did Sun City come to have its own baseball stadium?
Softball became a popular sport beginning in the early 1960s, and the addition of the women’s fast-pitch softball team — the Saints — in 1966 added to the attraction of the sport in Sun City. As Arizona became a more popular spring-training destination for Major League teams, it seemed a natural extension to invite one to relocate to Sun City.
Del Webb first tried to interest the Kansas City franchise in a new field he proposed for an area east of 99th Avenue and south of Grand Avenue — where part of Quail Run is today located. The team declined the offer and instead chose to train in Florida.
Sun City’s original ball field was located at 108th and Grand avenues. The purchase of the field for the Suntowner Restaurant (now an RV dealer) resulted in the need for a new field. The Del Webb Development Corporation decided to build a facility that could be used by a Major League team, as well as by the Saints and other local softball teams.
Build it and they will come.
The new stadium opened to a full house July 10, 1971, and when Del Webb asked the crowd how they liked the new field, the roar was deafening.
Some attending the opening event received an unwelcome surprise — as they leaned against the seat backs, many collapsed, as they had not been properly secured. But the game went on with Del Webb throwing out the first ball and announcing an inning of the Saints’ first game in their new home.
The most unusual aspect of the new park, a feature that would come to define the ballpark as uniquely Sun City, was an area above the seats behind first base where people could watch the game from their golf cars.
The San Francisco Giants played five exhibition games at Sun City Stadium in 1972, and the Milwaukee Brewers agreed to make Sun City Stadium its spring training site in 1973.
The stadium attracted capacity crowds during the next decade as fans flocked to cheer on their favorite teams. Along with the Brewers, among the other teams playing in the Cactus League during that era were the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s, California Angels and San Diego Padres.
All went smoothly until the 1980s and the advent of record-high interest rates. The Del Webb Corp. needed to sell assets to reduce debt. Running a ballpark was not a key to the company’s business, and the stadium was sold in 1983 with a proviso that it remain a ballpark at least through 1987.
The Saints remained a popular attraction at the stadium. The team and its players were embraced by Sun City residents, especially after capturing the Women’s National Softball Title in 1979.
In 1984, however, the stadium’s new owner informed the Saints the annual rent would increase from the $1 per year they had been paying to $6,000 per month. That ended the era of women’s fast-pitch softball in Sun City.
Chandler moved quickly and offered the Brewers an attractive deal to move to a sparkling new, multi-field complex under construction in the East Valley city. The Brewers played their final season in Sun City in 1985.
Spring training had become a lucrative business for cities by the 1980s and many Valley cities built elaborate multi-field training facilities in a quest to attract Major League franchises. As an unincorporated community, Sun City was unable to gather together the forces needed to compete against taxpayer-funded stadiums being constructed throughout the Valley.
Sun City Stadium was torn down in 1992 and replaced by The Fountains of Sun City.
An exhibit showcasing the history of Sun City Stadium, spring training and the Sun City Saints is on display at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum, 10801 W. Oakmont Drive.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Allen is a former Del Webb Sun Cities Museum Board of Trustees president and author of a book detailing the 25th anniversary of Sun City West.