Play Ball

This is an article I wrote, originally published in the View Highlife Magazine. Tim

A Cactus League of Our Own

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”– Rogers Hornsby, Major League Hall of Fame Member

It’s time for Arizona’s one month baseball extravaganza, 12 teams (soon to be 14), over 300 games, along with some of best weather the state has to offer – enter the Cactus League. At a fraction of the price of most other sporting events you can take the kids and don’t need a loan to do it, all part of the beauty that is Major League spring training during the month of March.

Spring training’s allure has been well-chronicled: the annual birth of a new season, intimate stadiums, unparalleled access to major league players, the relaxed atmosphere, and so much more. To truly understand what it’s like you must go to a ballpark and experience it for yourself. To help you do that, here is a brief spring training guide to the teams and ballparks of Arizona’s own “Cactus League”.

The Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals are the most recent members to join the Cactus League, leaving Florida for the desert in 2003. Both clubs train at Surprise Stadium which opened for their arrival, and is located in, you guessed it…the city of Surprise. The stadium, located on the Surprise Recreation Campus, is one of the finest spring training parks in all of Major league baseball, voted 2004 “Best Place to see a Spring Training Game” and 2005 “Best Sports Facility” in New Times Best of Phoenix. Ticket prices range from $7 to $22 dollars in this 10,400 person capacity stadium with the $7 dollar tickets being a great bargain for family’s with lawn seating just beyond the outfield fences. Parking is free at Surprise Stadium.

Scottsdale Stadium home of the SF Giants.

The San Francisco Giants and the Cleveland Indians are the original two teams of what would eventually evolve into the Cactus League. The Giants began training in Arizona in 1946 and have played spring training games at Scottsdale Stadium in downtown Scottsdale since 1982. Over the years Scottsdale Stadium has also hosted spring training for the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Oakland A’s. The current stadium seats 11,500 and was built in 1991 with its most recent renovation in 2005. Scottsdale Stadium is only a short walk from a wide selection of restaurants, clubs, shops and galleries. Like many Cactus League stadiums, Scottsdale provides a scenic view- this one of Camelback Mountain. Tickets here range between $8 and $25 (weekday) and $13-$28 on weekends. Lawn seating is available. The most unique concession stand item: Island Wok Noodles.

The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres play their spring games at the 145 acre Peoria Sports Complex which contains 13 full sized baseball fields. The Sports Complex opened in 1994 and became the first Major League Baseball Spring Training facility in the country shared by two teams. In 2005, Phoenix New Times named the Peoria Sports Complex “Best Place to See a Spring Training Game.” The stadium seats a capacity of 11,300, tickets range between $6 to $23 dollars, with lawn seating beyond the outfield fences. Most unique concession stand item: Deep Fried Twinkies

Peoria Sports Complex home of the Padres and Mariners.

Phoenix Municipal Stadium is home to the Oakland Athletics, built in 1964 it has been completely modernized with its most recent renovation in 2003. While Phoenix Municipal is one of the smaller spring training venues at 7,885, the park maintains a traditional feeling with phenomenal views of Papago Park’s red rocks over the left field fence. Located in Phoenix at 5999 E. Van Buren, the light poles are from the Polo Grounds in New York, this is also the park where Willie Mays hit his first Spring Training home run. Ticket prices range from $10 to $25, with standing room only for $6 when seating is no longer available.

Maryvale Baseball Park is another quaint venue hosting the Milwaukee Brewers with a maximum seating of around 10,000. Located at 3600 N. 51st Ave in Phoenix this 56 acre complex was built in 1998 and renovated in 2005. You should have no problem getting tickets for these games unless the Brewers are playing the Cubs. Expect plenty of bratwurst and the always exciting 7th inning sausage races. Tickets go for between $8 and $19, lawn seating available.

Tempe Diablo Stadium home of the Angels.

The Cactus League team with the longest name belongs to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who play their spring games below a picturesque rocky butte at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Close to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and freeway access Diablo recently finished a $20 million renovation to its 9,600 capacity stadium. The Angels moved into Diablo in 1993 and are one of 3 Cactus League teams to win a World Series in the last 7 seasons. Diablo Concessions sport the Bigger Better Burger (1/2 lb Bacon Cheeseburger). Tickets range from $5 to $25. $5 admission buys a place on a nice grass picnic area under the butte beyond the left field fence.

Mesa is home to Hohokam Stadium where the Chicago Cubs play their spring games, the largest venue in the Cactus League opened in 1997 with a capacity of 12,632. The Cubs are the biggest draw during spring training and have set numerous attendance records to prove it. If you want to see the Cubs play at Hohokam, you might think about attending a weekday game, tickets are much easier to get. The Cubbies have been spring training in Arizona since 1952 when rancher and businessman Dwight Patterson (known as the father of the Cactus League) helped bring the team to Mesa. In the 2006-07 off-season, Hohokam Stadium had a face lift with 2 new auxiliary scoreboards and a new state of the art Main scoreboard, as well as building another souvenir shop. A new concessionaire has added a whole array of food selections, but don’t forget the always tasty “Chicago Dog”. This year new speakers have been added to the public address system in the lawn and grandstand areas. Tickets range between $6 and $24 during the week and $6 to $26 on weekends, with a large lawn seating area bordering the outfield fences.

Hohokam Stadium home of the Cubs.

Three teams train in Tucson including the states own Arizona Diamondbacks who share 11,000 seat Tucson Electric Park with the Chicago White Sox. Plan on spending the day if you are driving down from the Phoenix metro area to watch a game, the drive takes anywhere from one and a half to two hours – one way. Electric Park opened in 1998 and has seen both its tenants win a World Series Championship, the Diamondbacks in 2001 and the White Sox in 2005. Located southeast of downtown Tucson, the 155-acre Sports Park is considered one of the finest training facilities in the Major League baseball. Enjoy a Chicago Dog during a Sox game or a Giant Burrito while watching the DBacks. Either way, it comes with a tremendous view of the field and of Santa Catalina Mountains beyond the fences. Tickets are priced between $5 and $16. In summer, Electric Park is also home to the 2006 Triple-A Champion Tucson Sidewinders the Diamondback’s minor league affiliate.

Contrasted with all the new ballparks in the Cactus League, the Colorado Rockies train in a stadium that first opened in 1937, Hi Corbett Field. Home to original Cactus League member Cleveland Indians, Hi Corbett Field was the Indians training site from 1945 until 1992. Through the years the ballpark has had numerous renovations to reach its current capacity of 9,000. The Rockies started training at Hi Corbett in their initial expansion year of 1993. If you are a fan of nostalgia you will really enjoy this park, if not you may find it somewhat antiquated. Either way, this ballpark has seen a lot of history. Tickets range from $4 to $17, that’s right $4! Won’t guarantee what kind of seat it is, but the price is right. Some of the scenes of the 1989 movie Major League were filmed at Hi Corbett Field.

Regardless of which team you watch, ballpark you visit, or food you eat, in spring training the final score really doesn’t matter, it’s about the experience of being “at the park”. So whether you’re a family looking to picnic in the sun while your kids run around after foul balls, or a business person needing to take a day off to decompress, or a die-hard fan who keeps a detailed scorecard, spring games offer relaxation and fun at a fraction of the cost of other professional sports events. There really is something for everyone in Arizona’s own Cactus League.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>