Sacramento, Calif.-area resident Bob Lewis has been making the spring trek to Scottsdale since 1982 — the same year his San Francisco Giants began calling the city its Cactus League home.
As much a fan as Lewis is of the Giants, Scottsdale is probably a bigger fan of Lewis.
Lewis and his wife, Sharon, are just two of thousands of fans who arrive each spring from around the country to see their beloved baseball team practice and play preseason games at Scottsdale Stadium.
Like so many others, they’ll eat at the regular spots: The Pink Pony and Don and Charlie’s, both longtime baseball haunts.
They are season-ticket holders. They shop. And they’ll stay in a short-term rental unit for at least a month. By the time they pack the car for California, they’ll have spent at least $4,000.
That’s a dream for Scottsdale.
The city estimates Giants fans poured $13.5 million into the local economy last spring.
Lewis doesn’t care about city coffers. The retired employee of the California Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s about the camaraderie he and his wife feel when they meet up with at least 10 of their friends each spring. It’s about being armslength from the players.
"First of all, it’s a vacation," Lewis said Thursday while watching his team practice at Indian School Park. "But you’ve really got to be into baseball to do this."
Baseball fans can watch the 12 Cactus League teams — nine based in the Valley and three in Tucson — begin play this week as their teams evaluate their rosters.
If history is any barometer, Scottsdale is poised for another successful baseball season.
Scottsdale led all cities in Cactus League attendance last year. More than 133,000 people went to the downtown stadium to see the team’s exhibition games.
"The main factor is that the Giants have a loyal following, and the Giants fans spend money," said Joe Connor of ModernEraBaseball.com and a contributor to MLB.com. "You are talking about folks in the Bay Area, where out of all the teams in the Cactus League, their fans have the highest average income."
Scottsdale and the Giants can even claim a role in bolstering the Cactus League’s popularity.
In 1989, when several Cactus League teams were eyeing Florida as a possible spring home, Scottsdale voters approved a bond issue to rebuild the 1950s-era Scottsdale Stadium.
The renovated stadium opened its doors in 1992, which kept the Giants in the city and likely swayed other teams from leaving, said Jim Bruner, a former Scottsdale city councilman and former Maricopa County supervisor.
"If Scottsdale hadn’t accomplished what it did, who knows what might have happened," said Bruner, who once was chairman of the county’s Stadium District Board and met with state and Major League Baseball officials regarding the then-weakening of the Cactus League.
It wasn’t the city that lured part-time resident Toby Watton to Scottsdale. It was the Giants.
Watton, a 58-year-old retired high school teacher and tennis coach from Philadelphia, has been a fan since he was 6.
He’s been coming to Scottsdale every spring since 1993 to watch his team. Watton and his wife finally bought a winter patio home near the team’s practice facility in 2001.
"We’ve really grown to love the area. What’s not to love about it?" he said with his palms outstretched as if to feel the warmth of the sun.
While Scottsdale’s relationship with the Giants is among the longest in Cactus League history, there is growing concern over whether the city can find an appropriate site to expand and upgrade the team’s practice facilities. If not, the team has said it would look elsewhere.
The city wants to build an $18 million practice facility at Miller and Thomas roads. The proposal would close the cityowned Coronado Golf Course.
Many nearby residents vehemently oppose the plan, now being studied by a design firm at the direction of the City Council.
Beyond the hard economic benefits to the city, Giants supporters point toward the charitable benefits of having the "business of baseball in Scottsdale," said Kirk Johnson, past president of the Charros, the group that contracts with the Giants.
The Charros donated $585,000 last year to local charities. Over the last decade the group has donated about $4.5 million, he said.
"There is the unspoken side. That’s the charitable side," Johnson said.
If baseball were to leave Scottsdale, a number of charities would be negatively impacted, said Nancy Clare Stern, development director for the Scottsdale Foundation for the Handicapped.
"Based on our budget, they are a significant donor," she said.