MESA, Ariz. — Don Fuller sees it happen 16 times a year and he still can't get over the popularity of the Chicago Cubs during the spring.
For each of the Cubs' spring home dates, Fuller watches people jam HoHoKam Park by the thousands to get an early jump on satisfying their need for the Cubs.
Last season, the Cubs set a spring training attendance record by drawing 102,950 to 7,600-seat HoHoKam Park during their 16-game schedule. The Cubs, whose regular season games are telecast by a Chicago superstation, draw fans from many states.
"It does surprise me, it really does," said Fuller, ticket chairman of the Mesa HoHoKams, a group of Mesa businessmen whose prime function is to see that the Cubs are housed properly each spring.
"A Cub ballgame is really an event for them," Fuller said of the people that flock to the games. "They are just thrilled to have an opportunity to watch the Cubs."
And Mesa, as well as the rest of the communities that host major league teams during the spring, is just as thrilled, because spring training means millions of dollars in revenues.
Tourism is Arizona's second-largest industry and the eight teams that hold spring training there are "probably up at the top in terms of attention-getters," said Lloyd Axelrod, spokesman for the Phoenix and Valley of the Sun Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Although Axelrod did not have any statistics about how much money is pumped into the state through spring training, he said the tourism industry would be much worse off without spring baseball.
"That is part of the total equation," he said. "Not having spring training would have an effect. I wouldn't say the winter visitor industry would fold its tent if that happened. But it would have a very negative impact."
While the state may not have figures on economic impact, some individual communities do.
Mesa officials estimate that Cubs spring training games alone pumped more than $900,000 into the city's economy. That includes just the price of tickets, parking and concessions, leaving out lodging and meal expenses.
In nearby Chandler, Ariz., where the city will play host to the Milwaukee Brewers for the first year, officials estimate an infusion of some $500,000 into the city through the 1986 spring home schedule.
Officials in Yuma, Ariz., on the Arizona-California border, have gone one step further.
A study has shown that spring training brings some $7.8 million into the town's economy, according to Jim Bjornstad, president of the Yuma Chamber of Commerce.
"That includes motels, RV parks, meals, tickets and everything else," Bjornstad said. "(Spring training) is a very, very great asset to communities."
The reaction is the same in Florida, where the other 18 teams spend the spring.
Howard DeFreitas, general manager of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, says there is a "huge impact" from the four teams that train in the area. Both the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets train in St. Petersburg, while the Toronto Blue Jays hold camp in Dunedin and the Philadelphia Philles train in Clearwater.
"I think it would be a tremendous economic loss if we lost our baseball teams," DeFrietas said.
"We're scheduled to have 29 exhibition games this year between the Cardinals and the Mets and people come from all over. I know a man from Rochester, N.Y., and he's here every year. I can find him at Al Lang Stadium year after year."
One of the hidden benefits of spring training, officials in both states say, is the datelines that appear across the country during that month.
"You can't buy that kind of publicity," DeFrietas said. "The New York Daily News has one of the largest circulations in the country and the New York Times isn't a slouch, either. That old St. Petersburg dateline atop those stories is certainly very valuable."
Karl Cayford, executive vice president of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, says his group "looks forward to having the Chandler dateline go out for a month. People know about Mesa because of the Cubs."
Mesa also receives a huge boost from the announcers over cable superstation WGN, which broadcast games from Mesa and often talk about the town during the regular season.
The popularity of the spring games has taken on such proportions that it's sometimes difficult for the chambers of commerce to handle.
For years, tickets to the Cubs games were handled through the Mesa Chamber of Commerce. But the sheer numbers of people wanting to buy tickets forced officials to move sales last year to the ticket office at HoHoKam Park.
"It just got too big," said chamber of commerce president Gene Meeker. "It got so crowded that people were standing in line in the parking lot and it was creating traffic jams.
"It's quite a fever. We call it 'Cub Mania' out here."