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  • Writer's pictureMeg Minard

Former Cactus League Stadiums: Desert Sun Stadium

Baseball has been in Yuma, AZ since 1874. Contests included the Chicago White Sox exhibition games in the early 1900s, a not for real ‘Chinese University of Hawaii’ team, and other MLB exhibition games from 1934 – 1942. And more…

Cactus League spring training was held in three different stadiums in Yuma: Municipal Stadium/Panther Field (Baltimore Orioles for just one year), Keegan Field (San Diego Padres for just one year), and Desert Sun Stadium.

Desert Sun Stadium, the 1970-1993 training facility for the San Diego Padres, was the envy of visiting players at the time. It is the primary field at the Ray Kroc Baseball Complex. Over the years, as more elaborate facilities began popping up in the Phoenix area, Desert Sun Stadium began to lose its luster. Travel became cumbersome with teams moving to Tucson and Phoenix.

Desert Sun Stadium 1970s Postcard

Built at an approximate cost of $400K in 1969/1970, the structure included a primary grandstand field and three practice fields and a 12,000 sq ft clubhouse. The original seating capacity was 4,000; by the departure of the Padres in 1993 the seating capacity was 7,894. Other improvements during its baseball lifespan included a lighting system, weight room, and additional bleachers and box seats.

Desert Sun Stadium Game Action 1970’s/1980’s, Photo Courtesy of Fantography

Desert Sun Stadium 2004, Photo Courtesy of Charlie O’Reilly

Spring training attendance grew throughout the years at Desert Sun Stadium and included local residents, snow birds, and fans from San Diego (only a 3-hour drive) to Yuma. Since it is so close to San Diego, players’ wives and families were able to visit frequently.

Players gave mixed reviews of spring training in Yuma. From “there’s nothing to do” to “I was able to play ball and get ready for the season.”

The final contract with Yuma was just for two years (1992 and 1993). The Padres moved their spring training to the Peoria Sports Complex beginning the 1994 season.

Desert Sun Stadium hosted several split-squad spring training games annually from 1998 – 2007 but that stopped.

The NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) Yakult Swallows held their spring training at Desert Sun Stadium from 1978 – 1999, usually a few weeks before the Padres arrived. It was also used by the Yuma Bullfrogs (Western Baseball League) from 2000 – 2002 and the Yuma Scorpions (Golden Baseball League) from 2005 – 2011 – both independent baseball leagues.

In 2015, the City of Yuma converted the field from baseball to soccer. It was used by the UPSL (United Premier Soccer League) Frontera United for a few years.

Soccer Makeover at Desert Sun – March 2015, Photo Courtesy of Jim Patrick

The venue sits across the street from the Civic Center and next to a golf course. Today (non-COVID times), local soccer leagues and teams use the field. Yuma’s big event, Midnight at the Oasis (car show), is held at the Ray Kroc Complex. The field can also be converted to a football configuration which the high school sometimes holds competitions. During COVID-19, the city equipped it as a drive-in movie theater.

When I visited nine months into the pandemic, it was quite obvious the grandstand hadn’t been used for a while. One sole soccer athlete was practicing, the seats were dusty and dirty. However, the grass was immaculate, green, and full; not an easy task in the desert. Kudos to the maintenance and grounds crew.

Desert Sun Stadium Ticket Booth 2004, Photo Courtesy of Charlie O’Reilly

Desert Sun Ticket Booth 2020, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

Desert Sun Stadium Scoreboard 1970’s/1980’s, Photo Courtesy of Fantography

Desert Sun Stadium Behind Home 2004, Photo Courtesy of Charlie O’Reilly

Desert Sun Stadium Behind Home 2020, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

Desert Sun Stadium Water Tower 2020, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey

Special thanks to Jim Patrick for the extensive Yuma baseball information and to Charlie O’Reilly and Fantography for several of the photos.

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