Cactus League volunteers provide a home run experience for fans

Above: Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, Goodyear Ballpark has about 30 volunteers at each game that assist with ushering, ticket taking and guest services. Business News | 16 Feb, 2019 |

Baseball. Food. Friends and family. Sunshine. It sounds like a perfect way to spend a spring day in Arizona. Luckily for Arizonans and visitors, that time of year is here: Cactus League baseball.

The nice Arizona weather, tasty food, seeing family and friends, and enjoying the look of the manicured baseball diamond are part of the Spring Training experience, but there’s much more to a great Spring Training game than the game itself. Ask baseball enthusiasts and chances are they’ll tell you about an experience about going to a game, interacting with staff and volunteers, bonding with friends and family and seeing one of their favorite teams in action before the baseball season begins. 

That experience starts with a friendly face at the gate and the ticket counters, assistance with choosing the best food and drink to enjoy while taking in the Arizona rays, helping you find your seat (and your way back if you get lost easy) all with a friendly smile. A truly memorable experience at the ballpark during Cactus League season is partly credit to volunteers that make each game day special. In 2018, a total of 1,944 volunteers assisted at stadiums, dedicating 90,000 total hours, and raised $2,605,000 in annual giving — a majority of which is distributed to community youth organizations, programs, sports and academic scholarships and public education.

Not only do volunteers assist with game day operations, but they interact with fans by sharing an enthusiasm of baseball and as ambassadors of the teams who play where they volunteer. Some Cactus League volunteers have gained recognition and are simply known as the Yellow Shirts or the Surprise Sundancers at Surprise Stadium, or Red Shirts as part of the Peoria Diamond Club at Peoria Sports Complex.

The Surprise Sundancers were founded in 2002, and are the Cactus League volunteer organization for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers who play at Surprise Stadium. With over 750 active members and around 200 volunteers at each Spring Training game, Travis Ashby, sports and tourism supervisor at City of Surprise, says the large number of volunteers can answer questions and provide a great experience for guests.

“There’s 200 people that love the stadium just as much as I do and they are able to portray that to our guests coming in,” Ashby says. “They do a wonderful job showing their enthusiasm and passion for the stadium and the game of baseball itself, so I think that’s something that’s pretty unique. You come in the gates and you’re going to see yellow shirts everywhere and they’re willing to help you and make sure you have a great time.”

The Sundancers have an array of tasks which include helping manage the organization such as scheduling during Cactus League season, and operating any aspect of the stadium you touch, says Ashby. This includes parking, getting tickets from will call, getting tickets taken at the gate, ushers that show you to your seat and shuttle and wheelchair divisions.

Ashby says the Sundancers enjoy various positions depending on each of their personalities. “That’s what I think is fun about the Sundancers is we have so many different areas that fit the different personalities and people can get out of the experience what they want to get out of it.

“We have the ushers, and they build these wonderful, unique relationships with our season ticket holders, where they have inside jokes and when they see each other after 11 months it’s like a family reunion. They know about each other’s families and where they went on vacation in the summertime, so from that aspect I think it’s really cool that they can have a personal relationship with our guest. On the flip side of that, in our wheelchair division, they’re helping people get to their seats to experience the ballpark…and the volunteers do a great job of making our guests feel welcome, it’s something we provide to make sure they have a good experience that’s not equal to anything else.”

That unique experience didn’t go unnoticed—Surprise Stadium was ranked No. 1 in 2018 out of the 10 Cactus League venues in Arizona by ReviewTrackers’ “The Voice of the Fan” study published by USA Today in family friendliness, facility, food and fan experience.

“From our perspective, once you’re up on that pedestal, you are held to a higher standard, and I think that’s where the Sundancers come in as well, because they’ve become ambassadors of the stadium here. They are affectionately known as the Yellow Shirts, everyone that comes into the ballpark won’t really understand the Sundancer name, they’re just the Yellow Shirts, but they have a big part of that ranking for the #1 fan experience.”

“I’m always excited to get back into Spring Training. I absolutely love the fact that people plan their entire year around coming to our ballpark,” Ashby says. “If I go out to Kansas City or Texas for fan fest, I ask people if they’ve ever been to Surprise, Arizona for Spring Training, and they reply, ‘No, but it’s on my bucket list.’ So I communicate that with the volunteers, we are up there with top destinations in the world and that we are part of people’s bucket lists they want to experience. I think that’s something I look forward to every year is making sure that we can fulfill that.”

Established in 1993, the Peoria Diamond Club (PDC) is the volunteer organization for the Peoria Sports Complex, the Cactus League home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners. PDC has about 135 volunteers on game days that assist with ushering, ticket scanning, parking operations, guest services and distribution of score cards, says Erin Shreenan, general manager, Peoria Diamond Club. “Our largest pool is the ushers, they love being able to not only direct newcomers and help give information, but also thoroughly enjoy interacting with all of the fans.”

Shreenan says, “the Red Shirts provide a valuable workforce that is necessary for the Spring Training experience to run as smoothly as possible,” in addition to being friendly and welcoming all fans and providing extras such as complimentary score cards, balls and other goodies to families on the practice fields.

“Our volunteers’ enthusiasm for baseball and interacting with people leads to a very friendly and welcoming environment for fans, from first-time visitors to the long-time season ticket holders,” Shreenan says. “So many of our Red Shirts go out of their way to ensure the best possible service for fans, from giving advice to autograph seekers, giving foul balls to nearby kids, offering wheelchair assistance, to relocating guests in need of shade.”

Celebrating 10 years in 2019, about 30 volunteers assist on game days at Goodyear Ballpark as ushers, ticket takers and guest services representatives that may assist fans needing wheelchairs as well as answering questions and handing out promotional or informational items to fans as they enter/leave the ballpark, says Debbie Diveney, marketing and business operations, Goodyear Ballpark.

Diveney says each volunteer is different and wants to be part of fans’ game day experience in different ways. “Some like ticket taking because they greet excited fans at the gates when they come in; ushers enjoy helping and talking to guests throughout the game. We added a life-size map on the concourse last year and had fans place colored dots on it to designate which team they were here to watch (blue = Indians; red = Reds; white = all other teams) and where they came from. Some volunteers requested that area because they were able to talk to numerous fans about where they grew up, lived, etc. It was a nice way to interact with our guests.”

Part of what makes the volunteers an integral part of the team at Goodyear Ballpark Diveney says is their warm, friendly smiles and a willingness to help and their role as ambassadors of the Indians, Reds and the game of baseball. “Our volunteers care so much about what they do, they take ownership over their respective areas. We see many of the same faces from year to year, and our regular fan base knows them. They have a genuine interest in how the ballpark operates and the overall fan experience, and really provide us with friendly and reliable assistance in key areas of our operation,” Diveney says. “They enjoy talking about ‘home’ with our visiting fans, when they find out they are from the same area of Ohio, etc. Our volunteer badges display their hometowns, so they are great conversation starters. We have one volunteer usher who likes to start the wave in his section.”

When you visit one or many ballparks this Spring Training season, be sure to say hi to some volunteers, they’ll greet you with a smile and are sure to start a conversation. The topic? Baseball is always a home run.

Want to volunteer?

Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Maryvale Stadium and Scottsdale Stadium

Volunteers for Camelback Ranch-Glendale, the Spring Training home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers; Maryvale Stadium hosts Cactus League for the Milwaukee Brewers; and Scottsdale Stadium, Spring Training home to the San Francisco Giants are organized by hospitality company, Delaware North. On game days, 80-120 volunteers assist at each of the stadiums in food and beverage operations from inventory, cooking, serving and cleaning. All group volunteers attend customer service training, responsible alcohol service training and food safety training to ensure positive interactions with fans and contribute to a memorable game day experience. Volunteers are well-acquainted with the facility and can direct guests and work well as a team, says Walt Farris, general manager, Glendale Sportservice. The volunteers raise money for charity and want to deliver a memorable experience to guests.

Goodyear Ballpark

Cactus League home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, Goodyear Ballpark has about 30 volunteers at each game that assist with ushering, ticket taking and guest services. Ushers assist guests in finding their seats, ticket takers scan tickets as guests arrive through the gates and guest services representatives assist fans needing wheelchairs from the gates to their seats and back, answer questions and hand out promotional or informational items to fans as they enter and/or leave the ballpark.

Peoria Sports Complex

Established in 1993, the Peoria Diamond Club (PDC), is a nonprofit organization whose volunteers participate in the daily operation of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres Spring Training at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria. The PDC also hosts special events and programs throughout the year to benefit local youth charities and has over 600 volunteer members. On game days, the PDC, otherwise known as the Red Shirts, has about 135 volunteers that assist fans in the areas of guest services, hospitality, office, parking, ushering and ticket taking.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick

Hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies for the Cactus League, Salt River Fields has about 50 seasonal workers on game days that help ensure smooth game day operations. As Guest Service Agents (GSAs), seasonal workers are stationed at each section throughout the stadium and responsibilities include welcoming guests and helping them find their seats. Other GSAs are stationed on the concourse at information desks to help guests with any questions, and on three different patios to assist with company outings; on grass berms in the outfield volunteers also help guests with any questions or needs. Many GSAs are retired and some travel from Colorado and the Midwest to be a part of Spring Training.

Sloan Park and Hohokam Park

Sloan Park in Mesa hosts Spring Training for the Chicago Cubs and Hohokam Stadium in Mesa hosts Spring Training for the Oakland Athletics. The Mesa Hohokams are a group of civic volunteers dedicated to raising funds for local charities and youth sports programs, and coordinate volunteers for Spring Training at each of the venues in Mesa. On game days, about 150 volunteers assist at Sloan Park and 50 volunteers assist at Hohokam Park with tasks including parking, gate entry, selling programs and ushering. Their volunteers are outgoing and answer fans’ questions, hand out baseballs, and the Mesa Hohokams partner with each team to ensure a positive experience for Cubs, Athletics and baseball fans alike.

Surprise Stadium

The Surprise Sundancers are the volunteer organization for Surprise Stadium, Cactus League home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. Of their over 750 active members, there are over 200 Sundancers, or affectionately known as the Yellow Shirts, at the stadium on game days to assist fans with parking, ticketing, ushering and are ready to answer any questions. The Sundancers also provide volunteer services at the Surprise Recreation Campus and other City Special events; as a nonprofit, they raise charitable donations and receive contributions to support greater Surprise/Northwest Valley youth-related programs and projects.

Tempe Diablo Stadium

The Tempe Diablos provide and manage over 100 volunteers during Cactus League season for the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. At each home game, about 60 volunteers and about 15 Diablos serve as ushers, ticket takers and provide parking lot assistance. The Tempe Diablos support the City of Tempe and the Los Angeles Angels by providing and managing volunteers during Spring Training, and their efforts benefit youth, education and the Tempe community. 

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