/ Modified apr 3, 2024 2:09 p.m.

We call it our Field of Dreams: Traveling across distances and time for sports

Will UA fans make the trip to their new Big 12 rival cities? Also, baseball played by the original rules.

Vintage baseball: Higley Haymakers Jared Flanders of Higley Haymakers plays in the first annual Haymaker Fest baseball tournament in Gilbert, AZ. February 24, 2024
Summer Hom, AZPM News
More than a Game

More Than a Game Season 2, Episode 5

(Download MP3)

Wildcat fans have been well-known for their turnout at games outside of Tucson's McKale Center. As UA prepares to enter a new conference, head to two such events to hear how fans feel about traveling for games in new locations. Then, we head back in time, sort of. We learn about this weekend's Copper City Classic, a vintage base ball tournament played by the sports original rules in one of the country's oldest ballparks.

Episode Transcript:


TP: I'm Tony Perkins and this is More Than a Game, the podcast that takes you beyond the box score and tells the Arizona sports stories you've never heard.

On this episode, sports fans hit the road and baseball players go back in time.

[music fades]

2024 marks the start of a new era for University of Arizona Athletics as the school moves to the Big 12 Conference.

The first football road trip in the new league takes the Arizona Wildcats to Manhattan, Kansas to play the Kansas State Wildcats this fall. Other away games send Arizona to the Salt Lake City region twice, along with Lubbock Texas, Fort Worth, and Orlando.

Joining me to start the episode is our show producer, Zac Ziegler.

And Zac, those distances will test the often-quoted suggestion that U of A fans will spare no expense to support their team. How far have you gone to attend an away game as a spectator?

Well, Tony, I haven't traveled too much for actually following a team. I have gone to the Final Four in Dallas in 2014 as well as not the upcoming one but a past one in Phoenix. You know, I tend to catch games when I travel. I've been to a fair number of Portland Trailblazers and Denver Nuggets games when I've been visiting family. I one time caught a Bulls/Pacers game, though I can't remember if it was in Indianapolis or Chicago. It was on a trip where I went to both cities. I've done a fair amount of NBA games when I'm on the road, but never really traveled to catch games as a fan.

TP: That's fascinating. I saw a Bulls/Pacers game in Indianapolis that was one of Michael Jordan's last games with the Bulls, and it was really interesting. I, as you have as well, traveled to different games during work for work and also as a spectator.

I talked to some fans who went to Phoenix during the basketball season to watch the Wildcats play the University of Alabama at the Footprint Center. Some of those fans had made an earlier trip for an Arizona game that was staged in Palm Springs. But both of those journeys were a few hundred miles.

Travel to away games in the Big 12 Conference could mean trips of 1,500 miles or more.

When I spoke with Tucsonans Vivian Baltierra and Claudia Gonzalez, they were excited about attending away basketball games that would pit the Wildcats against their new conference rivals.

VB: We're going to go to Kansas. We're going to go. We're going! CG: I think it would be fun to go, but it would be expensive.

TP: Now, these are Arizona fans who like to turn sports road trips into a family gathering. Between Vivian and Claudia, they purchased tickets for six grandchildren and brought all of them to the arena.

Two brothers from Tucson, Jay and Zac Garcia, mentioned the same thing. It’s been a family tradition for them to follow the Wildcats on the road together. And now that tradition might have to change, with conference foes like Cincinnati and West Virginia on future schedules.

JG: Travel's probably going to be a little more, but I don't think it's that big of a deal. I wouldn't go to West Virginia though. That’s for sure. Maybe a middle ground, like go to Texas. ZG: I mean, Kansas, it might take a few years for people to start traveling more and further. I think for the big games like Kansas or maybe Baylor, people would travel. But I think it would be just the super, super fanatical fans that go to West Virginia or Cincinnati for a while. You won't have the history like you used to have. You have to take five or ten years to build up to it.

ZZ: So I heard the same thing when I was in Las Vegas for PAC 12 tournament a few weeks back, actually. Mark Larson was there with his children, Cameron and Aubralyn.

"ML: It's going to inhibit some of the travel, especially with kids, but we're excited for the program to grow and excited for the new challenge. ZZ: So any new spots that you're marking, 'oooh, when they go there, we're going to travel. ML: Kansas. CL: And isn't Houston in it? ML: Yeah. CL: Yeah, Houston too."

ZZ: Now, Lawrence, Kansas where the University of Kansas is a pretty legendary place for basketball, so I could see fans making that trip. I know I would if given the chance.

TP: Yeah, I would love to see a game in Manhattan, Kansas. Zac, which of the college cities and towns in the expanded Big 12 Conference do you think are the most distant from Tucson?

ZZ: I'm going to guess, at least as far as travel, Morgantown. You can catch a direct flight to Orlando, which would be one of the other more distant ones, but off the top of my head I don't think getting to that part of West Virginia is going to be easy.

TP: You know, even after looking at a map, I would have thought it would be Orlando, Florida, the home of the University of Central Florida. But it is actually Morgantown, West Virginia. It is 2073 miles away. If you are a player, coach, or fan with the Wildcats, Morgantown will likely feel a lot further than that. It is a very loud and energetic venue for college basketball.

ZZ: I can imagine it might be akin to what they would see with the old Washington State road trips where the team would actually fly into Idaho.

TP: A lot of Big 12 followers will argue that the atmosphere for college football and basketball in their conference is on a different level. And that's something Arizona fans will probably need to get accustomed to.

Travel to away games will not include side trips to the beach in southern California anymore. Wildcat fans will need to find an alternative to a quick stopover at the Public Market Place in Seattle, for example. The challenge might be making the road trip the kind of experience that includes something besides the game itself.

ZZ: So, Tony, how will Arizona fans–you think–make these new road trips interesting?

TP: It's up to those college towns to show off for the away fans. Cities that host the national collegiate championship games face this issue every year. The Division 1 men's Final Four is in Phoenix this weekend, and I spoke with Organizing Committee President and CEO Jay Perry about how to maximize the entertainment opportunities for crowds who come to the city.

JP: We want this to be a community event for visitors that come from around the world and around the U-S and experience Arizona for the first time, or maybe they've been here before and want to come back. And we also want to make sure we have something for all of our residents, because they take a lot of pride in hosting the men's Final Four. We'll host the women's Final Four in 2026. So, we really want to make sure there's something for everyone.

TP: And when you make sure there's something for everyone, you're making sure fans are spending money in your city. Of course, there's a music concert venue for the Final Four along with a lot of other activities, but Omaha has the same challenge to meet when it hosts the College World Series, and it's similar for the rotation of cities that host the football conference championships and the College Football Playoff.

It's scaled down a bit during the regular season, but the city leaders in Lubbock, Lawrence, and Houston know Arizona fans are coming their way. They are going to be looking forward to the economic boost, especially during football season when the weather is better and more people can get on the road with the Wildcats.

ZZ: Yeah, but I wonder about how much fans will continue travel. I know the Big 12 tournament is in Kansas City, Missouri. I heard from a lot of Arizona fans at the PAC 12 tournament in Las Vegas that they like to travel, but Tracey Elliott and Brent Lohse summed, both of Tucson, who happened to be there, it up nicely.

BL: Yeah I don't see traveling to the tournament next year or going to any road games with the new conference. It's all situational like if you have an exhibition game here or maybe San Diego, we'd make the travel for that but there's a miles limit. TE: I would say the same I kind of try and limit things to like a seven hour drive or a two hour flight.

TP: We talk about Morgantown a lot. It sounds like it'd be well beyond that range Tracey mentioned.

ZZ: And, the Pac 12 has some cities that, as you mentioned before, have some nice tourism draws: Los Angeles, the bay area, Seattle. I think of a trio that I met in Las Vegas. Ruby, Sydney and Mandi are all students that were sitting in the front row of the 'Zona Zoo.

Ruby: Vegas is a lot closer to Arizona than Kansas City so I would have to say if it was over spring break probably but if it wasn't we'll have to see Sydney: I'm definitely going to try but I don't know Mandi: Well, I graduate this year so unfortunately I won't be a student but I think that's going to give me more opportunity to go travel and support the cats Arizona travels.

ZZ: I heard a lot of folks say that they come to the tournament each year, and a big reason is the destination. Las Vegas can be a fun place to travel.

Here's Greg Hanson, and for sports fans, no not the Daily Star's Greg Hansen.

GH: When the Big 12 gets wise enough and smart enough to bring the tournament to Las Vegas, we're coming back to Las Vegas for the tournament. As long as they keep it in Kansas City or Dallas, we'll probably come to Las Vegas for the tournament.

ZZ: It's hard to beat the big screens of the sports book sometimes.

TP: There can be an argument made for food though. Kansas City has great barbecue. So are these fair-weather fans or the diehards who are only coming for the games in Vegas?

Well, I heard it from both sides. Some of these folks said these are the only games they make it to each year, and they'll probably stop once they're no longer in Vegas. But I definitely spoke to at least one person who defines hard core fan. David Badger, when I spoke with him, was in blue and red face-paint and wig. A red jacket with a block A and rope light on the back. You can find a picture of him on our website. He says this is his only trip each year.

UA Fan Pac-12 Tournament March 2024 VIEW LARGER UA mega-fan David Badger supports the Wildcats at the Pac-12 Tournament st T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Zac Ziegler

"This is it! It's been a magical experience for the last over a decade. In college, I always hoped it would be in Vegas because it's a special occasion for all the teams, and I've got 15 friends that I don't get to see but once a year, they all come to Vegas to watch these games and experience it. Again, it's the only thing I can just drive is like back in college where you can see all your friends again so it's been very magical."

ZZ: He hopes that experience follows to Kansas City because he intends to go. And if anyone is looking for advice on Kansas City, like Tony said, there is a lot of good barbecue there. My mom's family happens to be from that area, and I have family who live there. I'll get you my uncle's restaurant recommendations.

Tony: Maybe David could afford some really good barbecue if he cuts back on the grease paint budget for that outfit.

ZZ: Yeah, really. Now, Tony U of A was known as one of the better traveling schools in the PAC 12, and the site of other fans at McKale was not exactly common outside of the one section they reserve for fans of the other teams. How about Big 12 teams and traveling to Tucson?

That's right, it works both ways. Tucson will be welcoming fans who have never been here before, and spectators from the legacy Big 12 schools may want to make this a regular destination for their road trips.

ZZ: Well, I'm guessing Tucson will look pretty nice when basketball season rolls around and it's winter if you're a fan of West Virginia, Kansas, Iowa State, Cincinnati, maybe a few others.

TP: Zac, thanks a lot for joining me on this.

ZZ: Yeah, and thanks for your reporting also on this subject, Tony.

[music bumper]

TP: Now sports and history are often deeply intertwined. One way to get a glimpse of the past is through playing sports by the historical rules and uniforms. The Copper City Classic Baseball tournament at Warren Ballpark in Bisbee is a hub for vintage baseball teams to play the game with the original rules that date back to the 1860s.

We get more on the story from Summer Hom …

SH: In sports, we often push the limits of physical ability: who can run faster, jump higher, or do more flips in the air and stick the landing.

Okay, I’ll admit, that last requirement of flips doesn’t necessarily apply to all sports — I was a competitive gymnast so I felt like I had to add that in — but while that constant innovation is par for the course in sports, there’s something to be said for winding the clock back in time and playing these sports with historical rules and uniforms to get a taste of what it was like to play the game back then.

One venue to do that is at the Copper City Classic Baseball tournament, which has brought visitors to Bisbee's Warren Ballpark each year since its centennial in 2009 — with an exception for the COVID-19 Pandemic. But the catch to the game? All the teams will be playing by the baseball rules of the nineteenth century.

MIKE ANDERSON: We thought ‘we need a good way to generate interest in the ballpark to bring in revenue for us to do our various projects, but we also would like to pay homage to the fact that this ballpark represents old Arizona, it represents old school sports

SH: That’s Mike Anderson, he’s a historian and a founding member of Friends of the Warren Ballpark.

MA: “And I had just started playing vintage baseball. There was a league forming in Phoenix, and we realized that here’s a sport that we could bring down here that would really fit in perfectly with not just our mission but also, the ballpark itself, what it represents — which is sports before television and sports before it was a big business.”

SH: But vintage baseball is played slightly differently than baseball as we know it today.

MA: Well, one of the big differences is this is underhand pitching, and it’s not —it’s pitching so that the batter can actually hit the ball. The idea is to put the ball in play, not to see how many players the pitcher can strike out — The terminology is different, so the pitcher is a hurler, the catcher is a behind, the catcher doesn’t have to wear a face mask or leg protectors — shin protectors, chest protectors — don’t need any of that stuff. But a ball caught on the first bounce by 1860 rules is an out. And fortunately, there’s no sliding in this game.

There’s no tagging up, there’s no stealing, so it’s very similar to modern baseball but there’s some substantial differences that make the game a lot of fun.”

SH: Another factor that comes into play in vintage baseball is the role of the fans, or as they were known back in the 1800s as the cranks.

MA: Baseball is kinda a passive sport for spectators. They’re sitting in the stands, and a lot of times, there’s not much going on. But what we try to do is inject some showmanship into the game. This is not a re-creation, we’re not reenactors …. But the ballplayers who come out here, they’re whole idea is to come out here and put on competitive game — to make it interesting — and also to teach the fans about baseball and baseball’s history, but also, baseball players tend to be incorrigible hams, so there’s a lot of showmanship involved [43 sec]… [25:37-26:01] If there’s a close play and the umpire — the arbitrator wasn’t able to see the play, he’ll often ask the cranks ‘was he out or was he safe?’ — or ‘was she out or was she safe?’ And it’s sort of like the spectators at the colosseum, either thumbs up or thumbs down — the gladiators. That gets the cranks into the game a lot more too.”

SH: Captain of the Higley Haymakers Patrick Murphy says the cranks help to settle disputes in the play

PM: Back in the olden days, we still do it here, is if you know … the arbiter, or the umpire, is unsure if it was an out or a safe, they’ll ask the fans, and all the cranks, and they'll be able to vote on it. And so, whatever that is, that rule goes.

SH: Another thing that makes vintage baseball stand out? The uniforms.

MA: You’ll see teams dressed in uniforms representing period all the way back into the 1850s. So, they’ll have, like, shields on their uniform with a letter on it, and maybe a bowtie. And you’ll see other teams that have uniforms, like the Black Socks are representative of the first decade of the 20th century. So, some teams will come out in very, early, early uniforms and others will come out in somewhat later. They will all almost be a century or more older — except for the Maricopa Maidens, their uniforms date back to the 1940s when the Rockford Peaches, where the ladies played baseball in skirts.

Vintage Baseball: Maricopa Maidens Maddison Muraki of the Maricopa Maidens plays in the first annual Haymaker Fest baseball tournament in Gilbert, AZ. February 24, 2024.
Summer Hom, AZPM News

SH: Yes, that’s the same team that was featured in the 1992 film A League of their Own.

[movie clip]: Are you crying? There's no crying! There's no crying in baseball!

MA: They were a huge hit with the crowd. And these gals came to play. I mean they could hold their own against any man’s team.

SH: Team Captain of the Maricopa Maidens Michelle Shaw says the team chose uniforms from the 1940s because

MS: The 1860s, around that time, the dresses for women that played were down to the floor. And they’re long-sleeves. We’re in Arizona, that’s going to be way too hot and everything like that. So, I came up with this idea if I were to design a uniform, like, compared to the Peaches, like if I would get approval from the commissioner of the league. And I got a unanimous ‘yeah, go ahead.’

SH: Patrick Murphy says his team’s uniform is inspired by a minor league team.

PM: We wear black and yellow …, I come from Bisbee, which back in the 1920s, there was a team called the Bisbee Bees. It was a small minor league that played there. And so when I created this team, I wanted to give some homage to the Bees. So, we decided to pick yellow and black, so mostly black, some yellow. And then, we picked the name Higley Haymakers — Higley, a town in the Gilbert area — doesn’t really exist anymore except a post office. And so, back in the late 18-hundreds– early 19-hundreds, it was a haymaking capital.

SH: Patrick says his team comes to the Copper City Classic largely because of Warren Ballpark

PM: We call it our ‘Field of Dreams’ ‘cause you go there and you — just walls can talk there. And so, we’re just a part of the history there and it’s just so memorable to put on a show in front of such a huge audience and an amazing venue.

SH: And the Warren Ballpark itself is a continuing embodiment of the spirit of sports from the early 20th century.

MA: This ballpark is not just a baseball field. It has been used since 1909 when the Warren townsite was founded. And this ballpark was one of the first things they decided to put in in order to provide entertainment because 1908-1909 we had a street railway here, street cars. So, it allowed fans to come over from all different parts of Bisbee — instead of back in the old days where you had to ride a horse, or walk. It suddenly became possible to pay a nickel, come down to the ballpark and watch a game. It’s been used since 1909 for baseball in the spring and summer, football in the Fall. Bisbee high school plays its football — home football games here. And then, it’s also been used for soccer. This is the oldest soccer field in Arizona. So, English immigrants came over from Cornwall and Cumbria in England and brought their ball sports with them and played soccer and rugby on this field. And so, we look at this as not just a ball field but it’s a multi-sports facility, and it’s still used year-round — which is pretty cool considering its age.

SH: Anderson says the ballpark holds a lot of sentimental value for the community as well.

MA: We often get visitors that come here and say ‘I want to see the ballpark.’ I either played here, or I graduated here, or I did something here, and it tugs at their hearts. It still looks just like it did when the … Giants and Cleavland Indians played here in 1947 — the last major league game. Looks just the same. The money that we raise through our tournament, the money we raise through grant writing, and donations and giving tours and selling merchandise and my book, it all goes to — every penny of it goes to making sure that this ballpark will remain in good condition.

SH: Michelle Shaw says the Maidens come to play in the Copper City Classic because of the vibes

MS: It’s beautiful out there, and when we’re in these uniforms out there, we’re kinda treated like celebrities, people asking for our autographs, people want to take their pictures with us. Little girls are wearing dresses out there because, you know, their dad might play on another team, but they’re wearing a dress ‘cause of us.

SH: Anderson says two women from Bisbee played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943-1954.

MA: Annie Henry and Betty Bays. Annie played for the Rockford Peaches and Betty Bays played for Grand Rapids Chicks and the Chicago Colleens. So, there was a history of women playing baseball in Bisbee long before Maricopa Maidens came. And the Maricopa Maidens are now bringing that good old tradition back. Our teams are co-ed anyway. So, there will be women, uh in fact, we have a woman on the Black Socks that she played college softball, and she is a really good baseball player. So, it’s not that the Maricopa Maidens just represent women in baseball. We’ve got women on all of our teams as well.

SH: Anderson said the vintage base ball scene was started with Civil War reenactors.

MA: Who got tired of fighting the battle of Gettysburg over, and over, and over. And they decided they wanted to do something historic but that didn’t have a predetermined outcome, that allowed them to wear vintage clothing and incorporate some of the aspects of reenactment in that we use the vernacular and the rules of 1860. But when you walk onto the field, it’s not like reenacting the battle at Gettysburg. You don’t know who’s going to win. It’s going to be up to the best team.

SH: Anderson says about eight or nine teams are expected to play in the Copper City Classic this year, which draws in teams from around the country.

MA: We get teams from California, we had players come in from Minnesota last month. We’ve had teams from Illinois, we regularly get teams from Colorado. We’re hoping to grow the sport into New Mexico too. When word got out, especially for teams back east where in January, February, March, April, you can’t play baseball. There is still snow on the ground. But, they can come out here, and in April, we’ve got pretty good weather. So, they can have a lot of fun playing ball. It’s usually the start of their season, it’s the end of ours. We play winter baseball because as you can probably tell, we don’t have a roof on this ballpark. So even though Bisbee is at a mild elevation, it still gets pretty hot in the summertime, and the teams in Phoenix and Tucson, they’re not going to want to play in the summertime. It’s all about fan participation, and it’s all about the teams having a great time, and it’s all about paying homage to America’s original spectator sport, and to Arizona as it existed back in the good old days.

SH: For this year’s Copper City Classic, Anderson says they’ll be honoring two ballplayers.

MA: This year, we’re honoring Bert Shepard, who was a WWII fighter pilot, shot down over Germany, had part of his left leg amputated. Came back and pitched a game for the Washington Senators in August 1945 — the first and only person to ever play major league baseball on an artificial leg. And Angel Salas, who was a Bisbee minor league player, played professional baseball in Mexico, all-around athlete — who later on in life became a beloved mentor and coach for generations of Bisbee boys and girls.

SH: At the heart of it all, Anderson describes the Copper City Classic as a “fun tournament.”

MA: So it’s not a competitive tournament, it’s more like an exhibition tournament. It’s an opportunity for these teams to strut their stuff at the end of the year. They’re all down here to have a good time, to play hard, but the whole idea of coming to Bisbee and playing in this ballpark is ‘let’s put on a good show for the cranks and lets have fun.’ :20 sec.

SH: This year’s Copper City Classic will be on April 6th and 7th. Tickets start at $10 for one day and go to $15 for both days.

[Music fades in]

For More Than A Game, I’m Summer Hom.

TP: And that's it for this episode of More Than a Game.

Join us next time as we learn about an Arizona sports team with an unexpectedly international roster, and the community impact of the Brazilian martial art capoeira.

The show is produced and mixed by Zac Ziegler.

Our News Director is Christopher Conover.

Our logo was designed by A.C. Swedburgh.

Thanks to our marketing team for their help in launching this podcast.

This show is part of the AZPM podcast family. You can find all of our podcasts, news and video productions at azpm.org.

I'm Tony Perkins. We'll see you next time.

By posting comments, you agree to our
AZPM encourages comments, but comments that contain profanity, unrelated information, threats, libel, defamatory statements, obscenities, pornography or that violate the law are not allowed. Comments that promote commercial products or services are not allowed. Comments in violation of this policy will be removed. Continued posting of comments that violate this policy will result in the commenter being banned from the site.

By submitting your comments, you hereby give AZPM the right to post your comments and potentially use them in any other form of media operated by this institution.
AZPM is a service of the University of Arizona and our broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents who hold the trademarks for Arizona Public Media and AZPM. We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples.
The University of Arizona