Cactus League

Chris Calcaterra knows he’s going to be facing a lot of challenges in his new job.

He thinks he’s ready to handle them.

On July 1, Calcaterra started a two-year term as the president of the Cactus League Baseball Association after spending the past two years as its vice president of business affairs. It is a volunteer position he holds in addition to serving as the sports facilities manager of the Peoria Sports Complex.

“It’s a great honor to be selected to be the association president,” he said. “It’s obviously a group that means a great deal to Peoria, the Valley and the entire state of Arizona, so it is something I take very seriously.”

In a normal year, the Cactus League has a massive economic impact on the Valley of the Sun. With 15 major league teams holding spring training in the area, February and March bring hundreds of millions of tourism dollars to the state, with a total attendance around 2 million fans.

However, 2020 has been far from normal. Spring training games were halted on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and baseball still hasn’t resumed. At one point, it looked like Arizona might have a major role to play in the sport’s return. Not only would all 15 teams return for a second spring training, there was a plan where the season would have taken place exclusively at spring training sites in Florida and Arizona.

The pandemic’s new course changed all of that. Instead of southern states providing a safe spot away from the hotspots in the northeast and Great Lakes, Florida and Arizona are now the focal points of the outbreak. Not only will MLB franchises play their regular-season games at their own stadiums, they stayed home for the summer version of spring training.

Calcaterra, though, thinks there could be a silver lining for baseball in Arizona—a greatly expanded schedule in October and November.

“Normally, we’ve got six Fall League teams, each made up of prospects from five major league teams,” he said. “This year, though, with no minor league baseball at all, there has been some discussion about all 30 teams having their own team. That would give them more opportunities for development of their prospects, and there could also be an expanded instructional league.”

That wouldn’t make up for the fans lost by this spring’s shortened Cactus League, but simply having 30 teams’ worth of coaches and players would be a boost.

Calcaterra is in the first week of his term of office and he’s already facing issues no one could have imagined at the start of 2020. Arizona has the advantage of learning from what happened in New York, Detroit and New Orleans—it has access to the latest techniques developed in March and April and is months ahead in testing. 

With the widespread adoption of masks and a few lucky breaks, the Valley of the Sun could be in good shape again by the time an expanded Fall League is ready to go. On the other hand, things might not go nearly as well and there could still be issues for spring training 2021.

After 22 years in Peoria, he’s planning to use his local knowledge to keep his organization ready for anything.

“At this point, we’re keeping every possibility open,” he said. “We aren’t in a position where we can set long-term plans in stone—we’re having to constantly adjust to what’s happening in the world around us.”