Nestled away about an hour south of Phoenix sits Casa Grande. Commonly thought of as the halfway point between Tucson and Phoenix, Casa Grande is a small city of just over 50,000 residents. While no professional baseball team currently resides in Casa Grande, during the spring or otherwise, the city of Casa Grande does lay claim to its own piece of baseball history. Tucked away in the western part of Casa Grande resides the Francisco Grande, a luxury golf resort with deep roots in Arizona’s Spring Training tradition.
Constructed in 1959 by then San Francisco Giants owner Horace Stoneham, the Francisco Grande was the pinnacle of modern baseball experiences. Named after both the city of San Francisco and Casa Grande, the resort played host to the San Francisco Giants and was designed to offer both guests and players with a high-class experience. Everything about the amenities screamed baseball, from the baseball bat shaped swimming pool, to the baseball diamond shaped flowerbeds, to the overhang on the hotel tower designed to look like the brim of a baseball cap. Coaching platforms oversaw the practice fields and gave the coaches a bird’s eye view of practices. The amenities at the practice facilities were so unique that some called the fields more like a “baseball factory” than actual fields.
When the resort first opened for play, “Optimism swirled like desert dust devils as Willie Mays hit a 375-foot home run off Gaylord Perry.” Strangely, The Francisco Grande never served as the venue for the Giants Spring training games. Despite being over an hour drive away, the Giants continued to play their home games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. While exhibition games did take place at the resort's baseball stadium, it rarely saw use. Instead, the four training fields saw continuous use. Great players such as Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, and Willie McCovey trained and practiced on these fields.
Hopes for the resort ran high in the early years. Horace Stoneham, who enjoyed spending time in Arizona because of the weather, hoped that the resort would remain popular and profitable, even during the off-season. He had good reason to be hopeful as well, as the resort sat just off a proposed highway system. In fact, Stoneham placed the resort strategically, in order for players and resort goers to have easy access to both the resort and the freeway. Early returns were promising and Stoneham foresaw great profit from the resort. However, the plans for the proposed freeway were scrapped and suddenly the Francisco Grande was no longer a convenient travel destination. Instead of traffic flowing into the Giant’s training facility, it bypassed it completely, leaving travel times long and difficult.
If you want to visit the Francisco Grande today, it operates as a luxury golf resort. Unfortunately, many of the historic baseball features have vanished. The four baseball training fields are gone, replaced first by football fields in the 1980s when the resort was home to training facilities for the USFL. The fields are now completely gone, replaced entirely by golf courses. Some remnants of the resort's baseball past still exist. The baseball bat shaped pool still cools visitors in the hot summer months. The observation platforms still stand, though the fields they watched over are long since forgotten. The ball cap brim on the hotel tower still shades golfers on sweltering days. The resort claims. “With your imagination, you can see the four baseball diamonds with some of the sport's best known players (then and now) as they practiced in their ‘Field of Dreams’.”