Spring Training is so close I can taste it….In a land where the temperature stays fairly constant all year, my annual trip to Phoenix is as close as I get to catching spring fever.
This will be my 8th consecutive year visitng the Cactus League and I highly reccommend it for any baseball fan. The Spring Training experience is the best way to see baseball at its core..guys spending the afternoon hitting a ball with a bat simply playing the game..There is very little flash. The mood is low key and relaxed. Players aren’t insulated in their clubhouses and actually take time to chat or sign an autograph or two. It is by far the best way to gear up for a new season of baseball.
So here are my favorite things about Spring Training…
#1 Great Seats
Spring Training is the only time where you can spend $30 for a ticket and sit in the first few rows directly behind home plate. You can afford tickets that would cost a fortune during the regular season. If you ever want a chance to see players batting ten feet away from you or hear the sound of your favorite pitcher’s fastball hitting the mit, the choice seats at Spring Training are for you.
#2 Staying at The Buttes
If you’re lucky and you can afford a splurge, staying at The Marriott Buttes is definitely worth it. Tempe Diablo Stadium is right down the hill and you can literally watch the game from some of the rooms. Best of all, you can walk down right after breakfast and catch practice then cool down in the pool before the game.
Afterwards, there is a sweet poolside bar that serves amazing margaritas. Every once and awhile, players stop by after the game. John Lackey likes to stop by for post game celebration and we’ve shared chips and salsa with Rex Hudler. If you’re there to watch baseball, The Marriott Buttes is the best spot to stay.
#3 Catching Baseballs
This isn’t really my thing, but my son Tyler loves to catch baseballs. His favorite trick is to stand on the hill behind the outfield during batting practice and catch one of Vladdy’s home run balls. You’d think this was only a kid thing, but it’s not. I’m always amazed at the amount of fully grown adults diving for baseballs in the parking lot. I guess at Spring Training you never have to grow up.
#4 Seeing the Players Up Close Before the Games
In the regular season, you’re lucky if you get to see your favorite players as they run out on to the field from your upper deck seats. At Spring Training, you can get up close and personal with your favorite baseball players.
A Spring Training Tip: On away game days, Tempe Diablo Stadium is open for fans to come in and watch batting practice for free.
#5 Getting Autographs
If getting a souvenir signature is your goal, you should be able to fill an entire baseball with them.
The Angels are really good about this. They set up a walkway that players use to get from the field to the locker room. Fans are allowed to line up for signatures and players stop and sign along the way. They tend to be more willing to sign at the begining of Spring Training rather than the last few days before the regular season.
John Lackey stops to sign in 2004
#6 The Stadiums
Spring Training Stadiums are small and intimate, more like minor league parks. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. Tempe Diablo has been recently refurbished, but still has small park ambiance. Just remember to bring your sunscreen. Most Spring Training stadiums are short on shade. I know it may seem like a good idea to impress everyone back home with your new tan, but if you don’t bring the spf 30, you’ll go home looking like a lobster in a baseball hat.
Hohokam Stadium is in the town of Mesa and is the Spring Training home of the Cubs. For a homesick Chicagoan like myself, it’s the closest I can get to Wrigley Field. At Hohokam, you can get a Chicago dog, drink a cold Old Style and the elderly ushers make you feel right at home. If you happen to catch a game on St Patrick’s Day, you’re in for a special treat.
#7 Mark The Beer Guy
No discussion of Hohokam Field would be complete without mentioning Mark The Beer Guy.
A celebrity vendor, Mark is part of the show at a Cubs game. He’s 6’8″ tall and wears samples of his wares clipped to his shirt. If you tip him, he’ll give you one of his baseball trading cards. He throws right and pours left, by the way.
#8 You’ll Never Know Who You Might See….
For a baseball junkie, Spring Training offers all sorts of opportunities to see your favorite baseball personalities. Keep your eyes open. In 2005, I noticed a guy on the Cubs bench who looked like Ryne Sandberg. Sure enough, it was him. During the 7th inning stretch, I leaned over the dugout wall, asked politely for his autograph and he signed my Cubs hat. I ended up with autograph from my favorite Cub player in the year that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Angel Owner Arte Moreno
Angel Announcer Rex Hudler, my daughter Katie and her friend Matt
Tommy Lasorda on the Dodgers Bench
#9 Angels vs The Cubs
In the past, I always thought that I’d have to see Hell freeze over before I would get a chance to see the Cubs face the Angels in a game. At Spring Training, I can do it every year.
And since both teams so bitterly toyed with me last year…I’ll have to travel to Arizona once again to see my favorite teams match up.
#10 Passing on my love of baseball to my kids
If you are a baseball fan and you have children who are remotely interested in the game, you owe it to them to go to Spring Training at least once. You have a chance to spend tons of quality time sitting in the stands, teaching them how to keep score and explaining the strategy of the game, without the hassles of your busy schedules at home. At Spring Training, it’s all about baseball and my kids have loved it over the years.
So there you have it..I hope I have convinced you to give Spring Training a try..If you can’t make it this year, keep checking my blog. I’ll be posting daily entries from Tempe this year.
GO HALOS!!!! GO CUBBIES!!!!