Coast to Coast: Return to Casa Grande

We awoke this morning in the guest tower at the Francisco Grande Hotel and Golf Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona. This complex was the longtime spring training home of the San Francisco Giants. The Angels were here for 1982-1984 in late February before returning to Palm Springs for their March exhibition games.

As with so many other subjects of that era, my go-to guy for Casa Grande history is Jack Hiatt, who recently retired as the Giants’ farm director. Jack began his playing career in the Angels’ farm system in 1961. He was traded to the Giants in November 1964 for Jose Cardenal, so he spent many springs at Casa Grande. Hiatt returned to the Angels organization for 1982 as the manager of the Double-A Holyoke Millers. 1982 happened to be the year the Angels moved from Holtville to Casa Grande.

The Angels used Holtville and later Casa Grande as a facility for players to work into shape before moving on to Palm Springs. Once the big leaguers left, the minor leaguers would report.

Jack told me that Giants owner Horace Stoneham and singer Pat Boone built the hotel in 1960, believing it was strategically placed for future highways to pass nearby. That never happened, so it was a big money loser. The facility isn’t really in Casa Grande, but several miles to the west. Quite simply, there was nothing else nearby then, and nothing nearby now.

The complex has a hotel tower, which is where we stayed last night. Jack said that was reserved for paying guests and team executives. The players stayed in dorm rooms to the east, near a clubhouse. Beyond the dorms and clubhouse to the east was a stadium used by the Giants to play exhibition games before the locals.

To the north of the clubhouse is a concrete slab. I asked Jack if he knew what it was. He said it was built by the Angels in 1982 as an outdoor weightlifting facility. He said the players loved it.

To the northwest of the clubhouse, and to the northeast of the hotel tower, was an observation tower and three practice fields. The fields are long gone, but the tower remains.

Tractors are grading where the fields and the stadium used to be, for a new complex that will include soccer fields, tennis courts and a facility for the United Football League. The clubhouse and the dorms still exist. In the hotel itself, a commissary has been converted into a restaurant. The bar is still a bar, called Duke’s after John Wayne who was a frequent guest.

Here are some photos I shot this morning:

 


The top deck of the hotel tower was intended to simulate the bill of a cap, according to hotel lore.

 


Looking east from the hotel tower towards the clubhouse. A spring training stadium used to stand beyond the clubhouse. Note the concrete slab north of the clubhouse; that was installed by the Angels in 1982 as an outdoor weightlifting facility.

 


A closeup look at the old clubhouse, now used as a storage facility by the hotel.

 


The clubhouse with the hotel tower in the background to the west.

 


These dorms were used by the big leaguers until they moved on to spring training exhibition games in Phoenix. The minor leaguers then moved in.

 


The observation deck is all that remains from the three-leaf clover configuration once used for practice fields. It’s being graded to build tennis courts and soccer fields.

 


Most of the memorabilia on display in the hotel is from the Giants days, but this plaque shows baseball cards of Angels players who were at Casa Grande in 1982.

 


It’s kinda hard to see due to the reflection, but this framed photo looks west past the spring training stadium towards the cloverleaf practice fields and the hotel tower.

 

We left Casa Grande around 9 AM local time and ended the day in El Paso, Texas. Tomorrow is the longest drive of the journey, about 485 miles until we reach a small town in west Texas called Kerrville.

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