Tradition. Mesa is a city steeped in the stuff, so it only makes sense that a sport laden with ritual, customs and convention like baseball calls Mesa home each spring.

For half a century, Chicago Cubs fans – anxious to see their boys of summer get in shape for the season – have flocked here to be part of the magic, the dream that is Major League Baseball.

151_SosaCubsSpringTraining_hi[1]rev.jpgLegends have played on these fields. Games have been won, hope has been lost. But all the while, the Cactus League’s perennial attendance-breakers have continued to make Mesa an annual springtime playground, helping to make this Southwestern stop one of the top destinations in the country’s Sunbelt.

Lauded for its affordability and accessibility, Mesa is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities (currently ranked 38th most populous city in the U.S.). It is larger than the cities of Atlanta, Minneapolis, Miami, and Cleveland.

It boasts a variety of accommodations to suit every traveler and numerous golf courses to match any skill level. Baseball-loving sunseekers can revel in plenty of sun-filled days and an average temperature of 72.6 degrees each March.

Play Ball! The Cactus League Experience in Downtown Mesa

Ty Cobb once soothed his old spring training aches and pains at the Buckhorn Baths mineral spas in Mesa. Willie Mays was the first to hit a homer at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. And Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio played one season of spring training baseball together in Arizona.

These are just some of the moments that make up the rich history of Cactus League baseball and a few of the tales being told in Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience in Downtown Mesa (53 E. Main St.).

Baseball fans and history buffs alike will have the opportunity to set their sights on items gathered from private collections of Arizonans who knew the likes of Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax and Willie McCovey.

Interactive elements, including Wii stations, baseball art and such activities as designing your own baseball cap or making your own trading card are all part of the experience. www.playballexperience.com

March into Mesa’s Museums

002891_hi[1]rev.jpgRecognized as the largest and most comprehensive arts venue in the Southwest, Mesa Arts Center is a central gathering place showcasing a world of arts and culture.

The stunning campus features a complex of four theaters that host world-class performances, Broadway shows and popular music acts year-round. Cubs fans take note – some March highlights include: Peter Frampton (March 7), An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin (March 9), Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage (March 15–18) and Bill Cosby (March 30).

Come early and enjoy pre-game Out to Lunch free concerts in the shaded outdoor plaza locals affectionately call the Shadow Walk. The music begins at 12:30 p.m. on Thursdays throughout March.

Steps from the Cubs Stadium

Hit the pavement and explore Downtown Mesa’s culture corridor.

Pop into the Arizona Museum of Natural History and take in an awesome display of some of the biggest dinosaurs that ever lived. Also see the permanent exhibition devoted to exploring Arizona’s desert cultures that includes a replica Hohokam village outfitted with real artifacts.

Around the corner is the Arizona Museum for Youth, where young crawlers and curious toddlers get creative in an art-inspired town.

Mesa Riverview Night Shotrev.jpgAnother necessary pre- or post-game stop is a trip to Mesa Riverview. Just two miles west of the Cubs stadium, this large-scale retail and tourism development offers 250 acres of restaurants, shopping and nightlife. It is home to Arizona’s only Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Cactus Moon Sports Grill and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, where baseball fans can discuss the day’s plays over billiards and some of the Valley’s best drink specials.

Downtown Mesa – Everything’s Waiting for You

Both upscale and urban, today Downtown Mesa is a thriving hub of business, government, culture, arts, recreation and entertainment, with retail shops and restaurants providing an appealing charm and character exclusive to Mesa.

This original epicenter of the city teems with life each spring when events take center stage all March long and sidewalks are flooded with party-seekers, passers-by and everyone in between.

Out-of-towners can take in two museums and dine at a corner bistro, a hotdog stand or one of the many outdoor cafés. Power shoppers can go boutique-hopping along Main Street and hunt for the latest indie fashions at affordable prices.

Not to be missed is the all-day arts and culture fair, MACFest! On select Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., it features local craftspeople and artisans as well as a farmers market. The March 2012 event dates are March 10 and 17.

End the day with a star-studded performance at the stunning Mesa Arts Center – the largest arts and entertainment complex in the Southwest!

With near-perfect weather and a multitude of activities and attractions, Mesa has so much to offer spring training fans by day and night.

During your visit, stop by the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau (120 N. Center – 1.3 miles south of Hohokam Stadium) and pick up area maps, guides, coupons and flyers for goings-on around the Valley this spring.

Offering complimentary Wi-Fi, the bureau is also a great resource for exploring the state, offering official guidebooks and maps for all of Arizona’s main tourist towns. For complete destination information about Mesa, Arizona, visit www.visitmesa.com or call (800) 283-6372.

RU Mobile? There’s Always More to Explore in Mesa

Planning your next play after the game? Log onto VisitMesa.com from any mobile device and get quick, one-click access to Mesa’s in-depth guide to dining and nightlife, attractions, events and so much more.

(Brought to you by the Mesa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, (800) 283-6372, www.visitmesa.com.)