Spring training; Arizona’s Cactus League opens to 15 major league teams in early February!

 

Cleveland Indians warm-up, across the field from the San Francisco Giants.

Member of the Cleveland Indians signs autographs, chats with fans prior to game in 2014.
Chicago Cubs new ballpark, opened in 2014, helped club set Cactus League attendance record.
Author’s spouse, Susan, poses next to Welcome to Old Town Scottsdale sign; try the nearby Pink Pony Restaurant!

 

 

 

 

 

The Super Bowl is still more than a week away, we’ve thankfully finished those interminable college football bowl games, and the NBA and NHL are in full swing.

But, for diehard baseball fans, spring training in Arizona and Florida will soon be underway! For fans of the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and 10 other teams – the Phoenix area is Spring Training Central, in late February through end of March. Said owner Bill Veeck in 1976, “That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”

The Cactus League, as spring training in Phoenix is called, is home to half of major-league teams; the other half train in Florida’s Grapefruit League. In Phoenix, the teams spend their workouts and competitive Cactus League games at 11 ballparks, with several teams sharing the same park.

Ball fans can frequently take in two games in one day by visiting the same park for a day game, followed by an evening game, or take in games at two different parks, just miles apart.

During spring training, fans can see players up-close and personal. Our experience last spring was that members of the San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians chat alongside the fence, joke and have a good time with fans. We watched as the Giants took a 10-2 lead over the Cleveland Indians (yes, I am an Indian’s fan), then the Indians came back to take the game, 11 to 10. Players on both teams chatted with fans between innings, and acted as if they delighted in the game.

All the Phoenix-area ballparks are much smaller than MLB stadiums, and more intimate, seating about 10,000 fans –not a bad seat in the house. Ticket prices are lower, and a cold beer seems to taste better amid such intimate and pleasant surroundings.  And, no alligators as in Florida!  In Spring Training, 1921 in St. Petersburg, FL, Yankees Manager Miller Huggins ordered a young Babe Ruth, resting on the bench, “What are you doing here on the bench?  You’re supposed to be running in the outfield to get your legs in shape,” Huggins said.  The Babe replied: “I ain’t going out there anymore…There are alligators out there!” 

For the Giants, pitchers and catchers are scheduled for the first workout on February 18; the first full squad workout is set for February 23. Their first competitive Cactus League game is set for March 3 with a two game series against the Athletics. They conclude their spring training season with an April 1 game against my favorite, the Cleveland Indians.

The Giants return much of their world championship team, but will work to fill the third-base void left by Pablo Sandoval (departed to Boston) with Casey McGehee signed to fill that spot. Fans are looking forward to the continuing development of second baseman Joe Panic and dominant pitching of Madison Bumgarner and veteran presence of Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy.  Relief pitching should remain strong, and manager Bruce Bochy will be busy rotating new faces into the lineup and filling Sandoval’s vacated clean-up spot.

The Oakland Athletics have pitchers and catchers reporting February 18 and the first full squad work out on February 24. Their Cactus League opener is against the Giants on March 3 and their final Arizona exhibition game is April 1 against the Los Angeles Angels.

The A’s, shaking up the roster for a stronger playoff run, made 10 trades involving almost 30 players.  Gone are their best player, Josh Donaldson, and several stellar pitchers including Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester. But the A’s brought in new and younger blood, with a new infield including Brett Lawrie and Ben Zobrist. With returning star pitchers Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz and Scott Kazmir, several vets back from surgery and new, young arms, pitching won’t be the club’s challenge.

The Giants and the A’s square off in a three game “Bay Bridge” exhibition series, at AT&T Park and O.co Coliseum, April 2-4, with the regular season then getting underway for both teams immediately following.

The Phoenix area has plenty to offer, in addition to the Cactus League. It’s a golf Mecca, and Scottsdale’s quaint Old Town shops and unique restaurants are always a pleasure. Dine at the Pink Pony in Scottsdale for a real treat, and be transported back to the city in the 1960s. Greater Phoenix offers the Desert Botanical Garden to explore desert plants, the Heard Museum offering world-class insights into Native American culture and art and the Phoenix Art Museum. 

For kids and family activities, the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Science Center and Children’s Museum are featured attractions. This region is centered in the lush and colorful Sonoran Desert surrounded by tall mountains; plenty of hiking and biking trails will take you to new and alien places!

Another idea, for California travelers, is to couple the spring training visit with a stopover in a national park such as Grand Canyon, several hours to the north. We did just that, camping several nights along the south rim of the canyon, then touring south through the artistic town of Sedona, then into the Phoenix area. It made for a spectacular week-long trip.

Both Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks are also along the route to Phoenix. The spring is the perfect time to visit these natural wonders, when wildflowers typically blanket the otherwise arid landscape!

How to get there: From Stockton, Phoenix is about 710 miles and a bit over 10.5 hours.  A natural detour can include a stop at the Grand Canyon, then traveling south to Sedona, before reaching Phoenix.  The Giants play in Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85251; nearby, the As play at renovated Hohokam Stadium, 1235 N Center St, Mesa, AZ 85201.

What to take: Binoculars, camera and snacks for the trip. And, your favorite team’s hat and jersey!

For more information:  For Cactus League teams, stadiums, schedules: http://www.cactusleague.com. For Phoenix vacation planning: www.visitphoenix.com.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.

Happy travels in the West!

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