It was beginning to appear that the third time would not be the charm for the Tempe Diablos, a civic organization comprising volunteers that has given away millions of dollars to charitable ventures.
The Diablos derive a significant chunk of their annual revenue from Major League Baseball’s Cactus League spring-training games at Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels, where the Diablos volunteer to park cars, take tickets and usher guests to their seats.
The past two years, the Diablos took a heavy hit on revenue as COVID-19 wiped out most of the Cactus League schedule.
As pandemic numbers eased this spring and people were getting back out and about, the Diablos thought they saw greener pastures.
Not so fast.
Major League team owners and the MLB Players Association were so far apart on a labor agreement that the owners locked out the players from spring training. It was looking like there might be no Cactus League play, which after 2020 and 2021 would have been Strike 3 for the Diablos.
But, alas, the players and owners got it figured out in time to play approximately half of a normal Cactus League schedule.
“It’s been rough,” said Mike DiDomenico, first vice president of the Diablos. “We’re happy that we have any schedule. There was a chance there could have been no Cactus League season whatsoever, so we’re happy to have half a season. That’s always better than nothing.”
During the past year, the agreement among the Angels, Diablos and Tempe, which owns the stadium, was tweaked. Previously, the Angels designated one home game each spring “Diablos Day,” in which Diablos Charities received all proceeds from tickets, parking and concessions. This year, the Angels instead cut the Diablos a lump-sum check for $150,000. The Diablos still make money off supplying volunteer labor from its membership at each game.
“We’re thankful for it,” DiDomenico said of the lump sum. “It’s a number higher than we would have achieved in most years with a really good game. If you can imagine the Angels hosting the Cubs or the Diamondbacks on a very sunny Saturday afternoon, with a filled stadium and everyone buying lots of hotdogs, that was the best game we could have hoped for. Well, the Angels have just locked that number in for us this year. That really helps, because you could have a bad weather day, or a team that doesn’t draw as well, or any number of things that could have impacted that day.
“The city has also worked with us so we’re a little bit less dependent on the number of games and attendance on the revenue we can earn. Hopefully, at the end of the season the math is going to work in our favor. It won’t be as good as a regular year but it will be much less painful than the last two years.”
That’s about as good as the news can get for a half season, said DiDomenico, 60, who heads the property management department for Kidder Matthews, a commercial real estate brokerage and management company.
The Diablos have awakened to the necessity to look for new sources of revenue.
Last year, they got involved in a new fundraising event with the city, the Tempe Playlist Jam Festival, at the Sports Complex on Hardy Drive in South Tempe. It was in June, in the heat, and on short notice. This year’s event moves forward into May when it is cooler, and planning is well under way. The festival is expected to generate revenue.
Recently, the Diablos participated in Innings Fest at Tempe Beach Park and picked up additional revenue.
And they still have their signature Ignite the Night fundraiser. This year, it’s back live, 6:30-11:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, after being forced to go virtual during the pandemic. The high-energy party moves to the larger Event Center at Rawhide, 5700 W. North Loop Road at Wild Horse Pass. There will be dancing, music, a live concert from Tempe native and Corona del Sol High graduate Zowie Bowie, silent and live auctions, food and drinks.
Individual tickets are $200, a table of eight is $1,600 and a VIP table of 8 is $2,600. Sponsorship packages are available, as well. More information is available at IgnitetheNight.org or TempeDiablos.org.
The Diablos reinvest approximately $1 million a year 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.
The Diablos fund 30 new full college scholarships each year and renew them for students for four years if they stay in school and make good grades.
“So at any point we are funding 120 scholars,” DiDomenico said.
Another important event for the Diablos is its Excellence in Education Awards, essentially the Academy Awards for area educators, in which honors are presented to teachers and staff from Tempe Elementary, Kyrene and Tempe Union High School districts. The 30 new Tempe Diablos scholarship winners, who will heading to Arizona State University or Maricopa Community Colleges, also are unveiled at the gala.
“We realize that this isn’t the first time there’s been a baseball lockout or strike,” DiDomenico said. “Obviously, our work at the stadium is also weather dependent. And a few years ago, who would have ever thought of something like COVID taking the better part of spring training away from us — as well as two years of Ignite the Night events?
“But we’re going to keep working and find new ways to raise money and continue doing these worthwhile projects.”
REMAINING LOS ANGELES ANGELS HOME CACTUS LEAGUE SCHEDULE
At Tempe Diablo Stadium, 2200 W. Alameda Drive in Tempe
March 27—San Francisco, 1:10 p.m.; March 28—Oakland, 1:10 p.m.; April 1—Cincinnati, 1:10 p.m.