Thursday, March 19, 2015

Secrets of the Sonoran Desert

I have concluded my two weeks of wandering aimlessly in the desert and bring you the fruits of my labor: a retrospective on things I learned from hitting all 10 Cactus League ballparks.

I suppose you know that Phoenix is in the Sonoran Desert. I mention that because with it being in a very warm climate, a spring training trip makes the perfect getaway when most of the nation is still mired in winter with at least a month of cold temps to go. In other words, if you need to convince a family member to go it’s an easy sell.

Cactus or Grapefruit League? For those of you not spring training savvy, of the 30 MLB teams, 15 have spring training in the greater Phoenix area (Cactus League) while the remaining practice all over southern Florida (Grapefruit League). If you must see your favorite team, or have relatives to visit in one of the areas that can be the deciding factor. But if you just want some warm baseball action the Cactus League offers a warmer, drier climate. Also, while still somewhat spread out, all 10 spring training ballparks (some teams share ballparks) in the Cactus League are within less than 50 miles of each other. The Florida teams can be on opposite sides of the state. If you have to choose, the Cactus League is an easy choice.

Other things I learned:
  1. 90% of the games are during the early afternoon. Sunscreen is your friend.
  2. Don’t sweat getting your ticket in advance unless it is a special game or a must see game. Arrive early and keep your options open for other stadiums. There are about 7 games going on at one time in the Phoenix area, sellout crowds are not the norm.
  3. Do try to see all ballparks. Even if you just drive up and walk around. Each has something unique to offer.
  4. Do not underestimate the time needed to get from point A to point B. Phoenix is a huge city and has the traffic that comes with it.
  5. Be prepared to pay for parking. Unlike the regular season MLB parks, there are few options other than the facility parking lot.
  6. Enjoy the cuisine from other areas of the nation. Most ballparks bring their normal hot dog to their spring training parks. That means you can get the Secret Stadium Sauce that you find in Miller Park in Milwaukee in their Maryvale facility as well.
  7. Don’t pay big bucks for tickets. It’s a practice game. Get a lawn seat and get a tan.
  8. Engage the stadium workers. Most are senior volunteers and are friendly, helpful and have great stories to tell.
  9. It is spring time there while it is still winter at home. If you suffer from seasonal allergies prepare yourself.
  10. Don’t forget Phoenix itself. Climb Camelback Mountain early one morning before a game. You will have evenings free, do something.

You can see a game EVERY day you are there. Maybe not your team, but a game nonetheless, and ANY baseball game is worth attending. Not to mention you get to enjoy America’s favorite treat in in its natural habitat: the hot dog

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