For this past Christmas, my father surprised me with a great gift: a father-son trip to Arizona in the spring to catch some Spring-Training baseball. When I grew up Colorado was a baseball wasteland without any sort of a major league team. Regardless, my father is responsible for instilling in me a love and respect for the baseball. It started off by coaching my little league teams and watching the nationally televised baseball games with me when we got a chance. For my birthday one year, my parents threw a birthday party at AAA minor league affiliate, the Denver Zephyrs, which featured a player who shared the same birthday as me, Joey Meyer, who holds the record of the longest recorded professional home run at 582 feet. My Dad is also responsible for setting me down the road of fantasy sports geekdom by buying my brother a copy of Earl Weaver Baseball, which the three of us drafted fantasy teams across all of baseball’s eras and played a 3-team league against each other. Earl Weaver Baseball can also be credited for my rooting interest in the New York Yankees. At the time I was a pre-teen, and this was before we had 12,563 television channels and the Internet to occupy all of our free time, instead we had books.
Unfortunately, not a whole lot of authors were writing books for the tweenage boy. So whenever we made a trip to the library, I’d wind up in the sports section of the library. The autobiographies of legends like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig and the like led me to become fascinated with the Yankees, much to my father’s chagrin.
A week or so ago, Dad and I flew out of Denver and Dallas respectively and met up in Arizona for a long weekend. In the next 3 days, we’d go see 3 different spring-training complexes, 6 different baseball teams, 25+ innings of baseball, 2 nature preserves, and 1 authentic Arizona Diamondback:
Which wasn’t exactly the Arizona Diamondbacks that I necessarily had in mind when we were planning this trip. However, in addition to being a baseball fan, my father is an avid hiker and photographer. I’m not nearly as active outdoors in Texas, but I do appreciate a good hike, so we hiked in the mornings a couple days near the ball fields we were visiting. On Thursday, we hiked in Estrella Mountain Regional Park, where we ran into our friend above not a stone’s throw away from the visitor center. Nothing quite like seeing a venomous pit viper slither across the hiking trail to incentivize you to keep your eyes peeled the rest of your vacation. On Friday, we hiked the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and marveled at the many Sagauro Cactus in the park, which I later learned are only found in this region of the North American continent. As a first-time visitor, the Sonoran Desert area seemed like another world. It’s a desolate and dangerous yet uniquely beautiful part of the world. Here are some of our photos from the two hikes:
We caught three different games while we were visiting; on Thursday we watched the Chicago Cubs take on the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, which the Indians eventually won 1-0. On Friday we watched the Texas Rangers take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch Stadium, with the Dodgers ultimately winning 2-1. Our final, game we caught the Oakland Athletics visiting the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields, which ended in an odd fashion as the A’s completely misplayed the last out of the 9th inning, leading to the game-winning run crossing the plate with the Rockies on top 5-4.
Each of the ballparks we visited were amazing, not a single bad seat in the house. We more or less wound up sitting in the same location along the 1st or 3rd baselines for each game. We were at field level and had a great view for each game. The tickets were moderately priced, and every stadium had affordable lawn seating in the outfield. The weather was absolutely spectacular for each game, it was overcast the first game and sunny the next two games. The stadiums were all intimate with Camelback Ranch Stadium being the largest of the three. You could count on mostly starters for the first few innings, then the minor leaguers would get rotated in the rest of the game. Aside the one miscue by the A’s the games were played pretty well by all six teams. One of the things I really appreciated was the lack of television time outs, constant visits to the mound (I didn’t see a single manager come out of the dugout), and other nonsense which causes baseball games to be interminably long.
For those of you considering attending Spring Training, I encourage it. I have a couple pointers that I thought I’d share:
1. Except for weekend games, there’s no need to buy your tickets far in advance. Dad and I bought our tickets the morning of each game before our other touristy activity.
2. If you’re visiting a particular team, spend the extra few bucks on the tickets to sit as close to the field and/or dugout as possible. Players constantly sign autographs and interact with the fans, it’s a real treat.
3. Buy your tickets for weekend games in advance, even before you fly in to town.
4. See as many baseball games as you can fit in. Most of the games are at 1:05 p.m., and there are occasional games at 7:05 p.m.
Lastly, on Thursday, we visited Haus Murphy’s, a German restaurant in Glendale not too far from Camelback Ranch Stadium where we enjoyed a pretzel, some schnitzel, a proper Oktoberfest-sized beer and some Black Forest Cake. The food was tremendous and reminded me very much of all the wonderful time I spent in Germany.
Altogether, this was a wonderful trip. Now that I’ve done the Cactus League spring training, I’m tempted to take my love for baseball and see the Grapefruit League in the future. Maybe this time, instead of seeing an authentic Arizona Diamondback, I’d see a Tampa Bay (Devil) Ray or a Florida Marlin!