Bye bye to HoHoKam


Cubs play final game as home team in Mesa’s iconic stadium

Some things naturally go together. Take, for instance, “Cubs spring training.” It naturally goes with “Mesa, Arizona,” as the Cubs have conducted their springtime workouts and exhibitions in Mesa every year since 1979.

Also intertwined with the Cubs and Mesa is “HoHoKam.” That’s because it’s not only the name of the service organization that handles ticket sales, parking and ushering, it’s also the name of the stadium where the Cubs play their home exhibition games. The first facility with that name was built in 1977, as the A’s used it for two springs. The Cubs then called that version of HoHoKam Stadium home from 1979 through 1996. When the Cubs’ owners wanted a better facility, that stadium was demolished and a new state-of-the-art ballpark designed by HOK Sport was constructed on roughly the same spot. It opened on February 28, 1997 with a game against the Mariners.

Interestingly, as the Cubs played their last game as the home team in HoHoKam Stadium on March 28, 2013, the opponents were again the Mariners. In between those two games against Seattle, HoHoKam hosted 262 home exhibition games of the Cubs, and 2,610,736 fans came through the stadium’s turnstiles. Most years, the Cubs led the Majors in attendance at its home spring-training games.

Let’s take a look at the final home game for the Cubs at HoHoKam Stadium.

HoHoKam HoHoKam

As motorists have driven up and down Center Street in Mesa over the past couple of decades, they’ve seen the scene on the left side above countless times. The cheery sign on the side of the ballpark proudly announced that it was the “Winter Home of the Chicago Cubs.” Now, though, the sign is no longer accurate, as the Cubs will move into a new spring-training complex a couple of miles away in 2014.

On the day of the final game, fans lined up at one of the gates (above right), standing on one of the circles painted on the sidewalk memorializing players who’ve had their jersey numbers retired by the Cubs.

HoHoKam HoHoKam

You simply can’t overstate the importance of the HoHoKam organization in this whole situation. The original group was formed as an arm of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce. That group had 35 members, with their first leader — dubbed the “Chief Big Ho” (you can’t make this stuff up) — being Dwight Patterson. This band of hard-working folks set out to bring a Big League baseball team to town to conduct its spring training. Patterson became friendly with Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley, and a deal was struck to bring the Cubs to Mesa for spring training in 1952. They trained there each spring through 1965, then elected to return to Mesa in 1979 — again, at the strong urging of the HoHoKams, led by Patterson. Note that the field at the stadium is named for Patterson.

The HoHoKams are honored prior to the last game of each spring, and March 28, 2013 was no exception (above left). That’s not the only time the organization is honored, though. The awards and plaques they’ve won could fill a wall … and, in fact, they do! The photo on the right side above represents the times the HoHoKams have been honored for their exceptional service to the community. This hall is just outside the HoHoKam Room at the stadium.

HoHoKam HoHoKam

The game began with Cub starter Carlos Villanueva hurling a pitch at Mariner Michael Saunders (above left). The M’s fought back from an early 3-1 deficit to win the game 6-4. The fans, who have been packing the ballpark on this spot for the past 35 springs, didn’t care what the score was. They love their Cubs and they’ve loved coming to HoHoKam.

HoHoKam HoHoKam

The A’s are scheduled to move into HoHoKam for 2015 spring training. First, though, a fair number of renovations will be made to the facility, including the removal of bleachers and installing new seats. That means that there’s nowhere for the HoHoKams to store leftover merchandise. That sounded like a good reason to have a clearance sale at the venerable Cubbie Hole store, and that’s what happened — the likes of which I’ve never seen at spring training. The 50% Off signs certainly did the trick to clear out the racks and shelves.

Cub fans certainly take the 7th inning stretch seriously, as you’ve witnessed if you’ve attended a game at Wrigley. For HoHoKam’s final “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” every fan was on his/her feet, belting out the lyrics. In the photo on the left side below, they crowd is singing “For it’s one, two, three strikes …” Look at all of the fans holding up two fingers.

HoHoKam 7th inning stretch HoHoKam organist

The music, including “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” is done by a real human on a real organ (above right). This is one of the most wonderful features of games at HoHoKam. The organist is George Kiefer, who has been playing the organ for Cub spring-training games for nine years. I asked him if he’ll be playing an organ at the Cubs’ new stadium, and he said they haven’t decided that yet. I really, really hope I’m hearing him next year at Cubs’ games in March!

None of the fans wanted to face it, but the end of the game arrived all too soon (below left), with an out at first. That sealed Seattle’s 6-4 victory. Many fans didn’t want to leave their seats, even as Kiefer started playing his post-game repertoir.

HoHoKam HoHoKam

Yes, the Cubs will still conduct spring training in Mesa in 2014, just at a different location. Oh, the team’s owners had a dalliance with Naples, Florida, but in the end you knew that both the Cubs and the City of Mesa were going to come to some kind of agreement to keep the beloved Cubs from taking their springtime revenue juggernaut out of Arizona. As the Cubs were saying their goodbyes at HoHoKam, across town a new spring training complex was rising from what used to be a public golf course (above right).

And you know that will be there to review it when it opens in 2014. In the meantime, we’re saying bye-bye to HoHoKam. Please feel free to add your own thoughts about the Cubs’ departure from HoHoKam below.

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