Robert Brinton is president of the Mesa (Ariz.) Visitors and Convention Bureau, and he is enjoying the reaction these days of local residents and tourists who walk by a 7 1/2-foot-tall, 700-pound saguaro cactus statue adorned in American League and National League design.
That one is positioned in downtown Mesa, the spring home of the Cubs, located at Main and Center streets. It is part of the All-Star Cacti on Parade, the newest version of an All-Star Game tradition, featuring 10 statues spread around greater Phoenix in celebration of next month's big week. It was Mickey Mouse last year for the Anaheim area; arches in 2009 for St. Louis; replica Statues of Liberty in 2008 for New York; and more in previous years.
"We're excited to have the entire valley be involved, so that MLB is allowing us to promote the game locally everywhere here," Brinton said Tuesday. "We all come together on so many things. And something as great as baseball, it's wonderful to be a part of it.
"Even though there's a sign that tells you not to climb it, the first inclination is, you gotta go touch it. Luckily, it's not a real saguaro, or you only do that once. There are people who have had their photos taken with it. They're having fun."
It should be noted that harming a real saguaro in any manner is illegal by state law in Arizona. There is no such state law protecting the newest cacti there, but let's face it, no one wants another injured Red Sox Mickey like last year so it might be best to pretend those needles are real instead of painted on, and go easy on these new attractions from Forever Collectibles.
If you want a collectible All-Star statue to keep for yourself, then you are in luck. Collectible versions measuring 7.5 inches tall go on sale Wednesday at the MLB.com Shop. They are available now at the Chase Field Team Shop and local retailers, and they will be sold at FanFest.
"These commemorative All-Star statues have become a big part of the All-Star tradition in just a few short years, to the point where people are now anticipating what they'll look like each year and collecting them all," said Howard Smith, MLB senior vice president of licensing. "Like the Statue of Liberty, the Gateway Arch and Mickey Mouse before it, the cactus is an iconic symbol of Arizona. We're glad to see the city of Phoenix and the D-backs embrace this tradition, another great way for the fans to enjoy the excitement of All-Star Week."
This year, the statues have four design schemes. There is an All-Star Game design, one for AL/NL, one for the host D-backs, and also a special D-backs Historical model featuring significant club milestones. All 30 MLB clubs are represented in the set. In addition to Mesa, the other nine statues are at Chase Field; Phoenix Convention Center (two); Sheraton Phoenix Downtown; Ymha Phoenix; Glendale-West gate Center; Tempe (Fifth and Mill Street); Scottsdale Fashion Square; and in Scottsdale's Kirkland Commons.
One of the reasons for the traditional statues on parade is marketing. Just think how many people saw those giant bobble heads positioned at key locations around Chicago when the White Sox hosted in 2003 -- or all those boots in Houston for the 2004 event. Mesa has a big Fourth of July event called the Celebration of Freedom, and Brinton said there will be between 30,000 and 50,000 people congregating around the All-Star cacti left there for fireworks.
Brinton said the Mesa statue will be permanently displayed after the All-Star festivities as part of a Cactus League Museum exhibit. That exhibit is split in three places: In terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Airport, in the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe; at the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Eventually they hope to find permanent housing with the Cubs, and they hope their All-Star cacti will live on there.
"We're all just excited about it," Brinton said. "It is a great point of pride for everyone that we're hosting the All-Star Game here in the valley."