Giants and A’s spring training lasts through end of March; get to the Phoenix area for fun!

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.”

Cleveland Indian signs autographs before recent contest.

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 a week ago saw the 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 take the Indians  6-2 (yes, I am an Indian’s fan). Players on both teams chatted with fans between innings and acted as if they delighted in the game.

Indians loosen up before Giants 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!”

Indians and Giants welcome a cancer survivor prior to his tossing out first pitch.

Cactus League games run through end of March. The Giants and the As square off in a two game “Bay Bridge” exhibition series, at AT&T Park and O.co Coliseum, April 1 and 2, with the regular season then getting underway for both teams immediately following. And, the Stockton Ports, our own minor league team, get underway in early April.  “Play ball”!

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 (you are almost certain to see major leaguers dining there, too), 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!

Indians pitching to Giants hitter in fifth inning; great seats for not a lot of $$!

Another idea, for California travelers, is to couple the spring training visit with a stop-over in a national park such as Grand Canyon, several hours to the north. 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 700 miles and about 11 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!

Yes, the Cubs also play in the Phoenix area; some claiming that "this is their year"!

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

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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