By David G. Firestone
Every good baseball team need a home for spring training. In 1959, the San Francisco Giants played their final game at Seals Stadium, a small, crowded, outdated facility in the Mission District of San Francisco. Starting in 1960, the Giants would play their home games at the brand new Candlestick Park. Giants owner Horace Stoneham renovated a large chunk of land near Casa Grande Arizona into a spring training resort named Francisco Grade, Francisco for the San Francisco Giants, and Grande for Casa Grande.
Francisco Grande hosted the Giants from 1959-1979, and during the resort’s early years, it became a desert refuge for Hollywood celebrities, like John Wayne, Pat Boone, and Gale Gordon. Willy McCovey, Juan Marichal and Willy Mays honed their skills at the ballpark, with Mays hitting a 375 foot homer in 1959. After the Giants left for Scottsdale in 1980, the facility wasn’t utilized until the California Angels came in 1982 through 1984. The Angels went all the way to the ALCS before losing to the Milwaukee Brewers. For those three seasons, the Angels prepared for the season, with talent like Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew working on the same diamonds that, 20 years before, Juan Marichal, Willy McCovey, Orlando Cepada, Gaylord Perry, Jose Pagan, Don Larsen and Willy Mays had utilized before their 1962 World Series Title.
When the Angels left, the facility was converted to a football field for the Arizona Wranglers and Denver Gold of the ill-fated USFL. Then it was converted into a golf course, which hosted a number of PGA events. Then in 2003, it closed for renovations. Two years and $8.5 million later, it has evolved into a world-class golf resort.
Most of the baseball equipment from the early glory days has been lost to history. Some of the home plates and equipment used is in a display in the resort. I acquired one of, if not the only remaining pitching rubbers from that resort. To think that Juan Marichal, Billy Pierce, Don Larsen, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn, Steve Stone, Vida Blue, or Tommy John used this pitching rubber is just mind blowing! It shows its age, but is still in decent condition. These baseballs were also rescued during the renovations. They have lost their leather covering and red stitches, but they clearly were there for a long time, and one can only dream of who used them… In additon there are also some hotel key tags from the days before plastic cards. When checking in, the front desk agent would hand the guest a key with one of these tags to let them know where their room was. These would be returned at the end of the stay. These were also rescued during the renovations, and many show their age as well.
The days of McCovey and Mays may be long gong, but the resort has risen anew. The success of the golf resort as well as the popularity of warm resort during the winter season has taken the resort from a humble ballpark to a world-renowned destination. The future looks as bright as the Arizona sun for Francisco Grande.