Students earn an assist at Cactus League Luncheon

GCU sophomore Hayden Trujillo helps set up the stage for the Cactus League Luncheon on Wednesday in GCU Arena.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Mathew McGraw
GCU News Bureau

Grand Canyon University students got more exposure Wednesday to the 15 Major League Baseball teams that make up Arizona’s spring training network, the Cactus League.

But the exposure works both ways.

Hayden Trujillo (left) talks with GCU baseball player Brodie Cooper-Vassalakis (center) and Sam Arcalas, Director of Baseball Operations, at the event.

The attendees to the annual Cactus League Luncheon, held for the second consecutive year in GCU Arena, were greeted at the doors by GCU students from the Sports Business program.

Those students were managed by another GCU Sports Business major.

Among the lunch servers were GCU students from the hospitality program.

About 10 members of the GCU baseball team, led by coach Andy Stankiewicz, were there, ready to lend assistance.

And among the crowd of lunch consumers were still more GCU students who are working for major league teams, thus taking advantage of the University’s efforts to establish firm relationships within the Arizona baseball community.

In other words, the GCU impact was evident to anyone who was there. But the main reason that Dr. Mark Clifford, Assistant Dean and Director, Sports Business, for the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB), sets up opportunities like this is for the impact they have on students.

“It does a couple things,” he said. “First, it’s exposure, learning and understanding how to network and how important the networks are for a student in this industry. Second, it’s just to see how events are done on a grander scale and the impact they have, not just for the University but for Phoenix.

Jerry Colangelo (center) takes part in a panel discussion with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (left) and moderator Steve Berthiaume.

“It’s just to have the student understand that there’s more to it than just a baseball game and to see the impact it has on the municipalities, on the teams themselves when they come from out of town to play games here, and on the fans when we’re at the games day in and day out.”

Clifford has more than 40 GCU students working for Cactus League teams. One of them is sophomore Hayden Trujillo, a marketing and promotions assistant for the City of Surprise – among many other roles.

The sports business major also is the Marketing Officer for the GCU Sports Business Club … and a community relations/youth football intern for the Arizona Cardinals … and was an event operations leader for the Hoophall West Basketball Tournament in December … a volunteer for the Diamondbacks Golf Classic ... and on Wednesday he was the student managing all those other students at the luncheon.

This is how Sports Business students at GCU get ahead. But Trujillo made it clear that he wouldn’t have sniffed any of these opportunities without the assistance of Clifford and the CCOB namesake, Arizona business icon Jerry Colangelo.

“Mr. Colangelo and Mr. Clifford, they do so much for us,” Trujillo said. “They really do push for us to get experience, and they offer so many different ways we can do this. I give them a lot of credit for all the work not only myself but all these students are doing right now.

Former major league pitcher Vida Blue, an inductee into the Cactus League Hall of Fame, throws out the "first pitch."

“It’s really an amazing thing, and I’m just so blessed and grateful for all of them and the work that they do and the whole business school as well. Without them, we wouldn’t be in this spot.”

Trujillo also credited Elisha Fronda, President of the GCU Sports Business Club. Fronda is so enterprising, he founded the Ball Out Phoenix basketball developmental camp in 2018.

“He’s done a great job leading all of us and really being a great mentor for all the younger sports business students coming up,” Trujillo said. “He just sets a great example of how to go about networking and just being an overall great leader. I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s done a lot, not only for the club but also for the school, too. He does great things all over campus.”

Trujillo got the job in Surprise after meeting Joe Bertoletti, Senior Associate Director of Sports and Tourism for the City of Surprise, during a career fair at the CCOB Building when he was a freshman. It wasn’t the first job fair Bertoletti has attended, and it sounds as if it won’t be the last.

“What the GCU program is doing is great,” he said. “Mark Clifford does a phenomenal job of bringing the real world into the classroom and connecting the students with real-life professionals. He creates and helps the professors create a curriculum that teaches them what we need in the real world.”

Trujillo works a fairly typical schedule in Surprise – about 20 hours a week.

“We try to balance it with their school schedules because their classes are very important,” Bertoletti said. “We look to make sure they’re working enough hours to get the experience but not too many so they can still be successful in the classroom.”

Wednesday’s event, the traditional kickoff to spring training in Arizona a couple of days before games begin, started with a “first pitch” thrown by one of the day’s honorees, former major league pitcher Vida Blue, to former Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman and current broadcaster Mark Grace.

Alicia Gwynn, widow of Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, accepts the plaque marking his induction into the Cactus League Hall of Fame. She is joined by (from left) Jeff Meyer, President of the Scottsdale Charros; Jerry Reinsdorf; and Jerry Colangelo.

Even then, the GCU students helped out. Grace forgot to bring his baseball mitt, so pitcher Brodie Cooper-Vassalakis sprinted all the way to the baseball clubhouse and retrieved a left-handed glove for Grace to use.

Cooper-Vassalakis then stayed at the luncheon until he could get the glove back from Grace because it was going to be needed at practice. He even hand-polished the podium and chairs on the stage.

Next up was a panel discussion with Colangelo and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a wintertime resident of Paradise Valley. It was Colangelo who helped facilitate Reinsdorf’s decision to move the White Sox from Sarasota, Fla., to Arizona for spring training.

The highlight of the event was the induction of six new members into the Cactus League Hall of Fame: Blue, former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, outfielders Tony Gwynn (who died in 2014) and Billy Williams, broadcaster Vin Scully and groundskeeper Al Siebert.

But the highlight for students like Trujillo is the time of year.

“I love spring training,” he said. “It makes you happy. Everyone’s in a great mood. The weather’s great. It’s just a perfect time of the year.”

A perfect time for more exposure to baseball. All the students have to do is be willing to step up to the plate.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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GCU Today: GCU teaches business ethics with future in mind

GCU Today: Sports Business students get in the game(s)


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