Filed Under Sports

The Francisco Grande

The forgotten mecca of spring baseball

The Francisco Grande is Casa Grande is a forgotten relic of baseball's past. Tucked away between Phoenix and Tucson, the now golf resort once boasted one of the most state of the art baseball facilities on the west coast. The San Francisco Giants called its training facilities home, but a multitude of issues would lead to its abandonment as a sports training ground and its rebirth as a golf resort.

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’.”

Images

Francisco Grande Hotel and Motor Inn Postcard Front
Francisco Grande Hotel and Motor Inn Postcard Front This post card of the Francisco Grande was produced by the San Francisco Giants as publicity for the resort. Source: Francisco Grande Hotel and Motor In postcard, date unknown, Phoenix, Arizona. Card Cow, accessed November 20, 2016.  Creator: Petley Studios
The Giants Arrive for Spring Training
The Giants Arrive for Spring Training The San Francisco Giants arrive at the Francisco Grande ready to start their preparation for a grueling season. Source: "Spring Training — Francisco Grande in 1962".SF Giants Photos. Accessed December 8, 2016.  Date: 1962
"Francisco Grande near Casa Grande"
"Francisco Grande near Casa Grande" This photograph shows the Francisco Grande in 1970. the three training fields are clearly visibly, along with the fourth field, built for exhibition games. The baseball bat pool is also visible in the foreground. The baseball "control tower" is seen in the center of the three training fields Source: Carlos Elmer, "Pinal County, Arizona U.S.A," Arizona Highways, November 1970. Arizona Memory Project, Accessed February 15, 2024.  Creator: Bob Markow Date: 1970
Francisco Grande Hotel and Motor Inn postcard reverse
Francisco Grande Hotel and Motor Inn postcard reverse The reverse of the same post card. Here you can clearly see the seal of the San Francisco Giants, as well as advertising information for the hotel. Source: Francisco Grande Hotel and Motor In postcard, date unknown, Phoenix, Arizona. Card Cow, accessed November 20, 2016. Creator: Petley Studios
Aerial View of the Francisco Grande
Aerial View of the Francisco Grande The Francisco Grande drew moderately large crowds for the exhibition games played their. This image shows the exhibition stadium, as well as the 4 practice fields with the vaunted observation deck. Source: Aerial View of the Francisco Giants,  SF Giants Phtotos 15, 2012. Accessed December 8, 2016. Creator: San Francisco Giants Date: ca. 1960

Location

12684 West Gila Bend Highway Casa Grande, Arizona 85193

Metadata

Connor Hillmann, “The Francisco Grande,” Salt River Stories, accessed June 19, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/205.