Diablos into windup and making pitch to offset lost Cactus League revenue

Tempe Diablos member Frank Coen takes money and directs guests to parking during a Cactus League spring-training game at Tempe Diablo Stadium. –Tempe Diablos photo

In some ways, the Tempe Diablos feel like mighty Casey at the Bat after the umpire said, “Strike two!”

They’re assuming that the Cactus League spring-training season will proceed as scheduled, and the latest word from Major League Baseball is that it will.

But even if it does, crowds at Valley Cactus League stadiums, and, most important to the Diablos, Tempe Diablo Stadium, likely will be sparse as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

This is potentially crippling to the Diablos, a Tempe charitable organization that funds several worthwhile endeavors across the city. They derive a significant chunk of their annual revenue from their contract with Tempe to provide parking operations, ushers and ticket takers at the stadium. All Diablos who work the games are volunteers.

The Diablos reinvest approximately $1 million a year back into the Tempe community in high school scholarships, an extensive grant program to non-profits and a variety of services that help make Tempe families’ and residents’ lives better.

Unlike mighty Casey, the Diablos have no intention of going down swinging.

The group is scrambling to replace anticipated lost revenue from the Cactus League for the second straight spring.

Bill Ottinger

“Baseball is the heart and soul of the Diablos,” said Bill Ottinger, a member of the organization’s Board of Directors. “This group formed back in 1968 as more of a program of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce to bring spring training baseball to Tempe. We did that. We attracted the Seattle Pilots at the time. Today, we have a wonderful relationship with the California Angels and Arte Moreno, their owner, who has strong ties to Tempe.

“It’s a wonderful partnership. The ballpark is named after the Diablos. It’s a rich history.”

One day each spring, the Angels have Diablos Day at a Cactus League home game at Diablo Stadium, in which Diablos Charities receives all proceeds from tickets, parking and concessions in addition to the money they earn at each home game.

Will it happen in 2021?

In mid January, the Cactus League sent a letter endorsed by several Valley mayors and city managers to Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred suggesting that it might be “wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here.”

The league has said that it is in favor of moving back the start of spring training due to COVID-19, but the Players’ Association has refused to go along with it unless the league can guarantee that a full 162-game regular season still would be played so that players receive full pay for the season.

The millionaire players might not be aware of the ramifications of their position on a local charitable group that needs revenue from the Cactus League to continue doing good in the community.

The Diablos are proceeding as if the Cactus League will start on time and play a full spring-training schedule, knowing that they’re looking at a reduced take whether the games are played or not.

They have issued a public plea for donations to help make up lost revenue.

Vincent Vasquez

“We look to give back any way we can,” said Vincent Vasquez, chairman of the Diablos’ Baseball Committee. “We give our time and our efforts so the maximum amount of money can pass through to recipients of the funds that we raise. While baseball is a very important function, we do have other activities throughout the year. At this time, we’re reaching out to the community and saying if you have an opportunity to give, consider the Tempe Diablos. We do help support teachers and scholarships to students.

“Anything anyone can give is meaningful. Our organizational strategy at this point is to make people aware of what we do, how we do and how we give our time. So, if you are a company or an individual that can help, please do.”

Accordingly, two annual Diablos events become even more important to the group this year, according to David Formisano, Diablos marketing chairman.

One is the April 24 Ignite the Night, a 5-6 p.m. online fundraiser with auctions and prizes, and information about the Diablos and their impact in the community. A silent auction runs April 12 through April 24. Corporate sponsorships are available. Email info@tempediablos.org for information.

Another important event for the Diablos is the May 6th Excellence in Education Awards, which normally is at Tempe Center for the Arts, but will be online this year due to the pandemic. Formisano says this is “basically the Academy Awards for educators,” in which honors will be presented to teachers and staff from Tempe Elementary, Kyrene and Tempe Union High School districts.

The 30 Tempe Diablos scholarship winners in the Class of 2021, who will heading to Arizona State University or Maricopa Community Colleges, also will be unveiled.

David Formisano

Formisano points out that sponsorships for individual awards are available from $500 to $3,500. Information is available by email at info@tempediablos.org or on the Diablos website, tempediablos.com.

“We want to make sponsorships more accessible to people in the community who want to be part of the event,” Formisano said. “These two events are more important than ever because of our baseball situation.”

Ottinger pointed out that the Diablos have gotten creative in sponsoring activities that have impact in the community but do not require significant funds to present. Among them are a food drive and a blood drive.

“The Tempe Diablos always have made a difference in the community and that isn’t going to change,” he said.

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