Backyard Tourist – Spring Training In The Cactus League

When most of the United States is lingering with black leafless trees and cold temperatures, Arizona and Florida enjoy mild weather, sunshine (usually), and Spring Training for Major League Baseball! Adorably known (in my book) as the Cactus League (AZ) and Grapefruit League (FL), MLB Spring Training delivers an early look at major league teams and serves up many a perfect afternoon of the all-American pastime.

As an aside, one of my favorite travel tips is to take in a local sporting event. I’ve seen baseball in Japan, mock bullfighting in Peru (the village had only one bull and thankfully wouldn’t pick or kill him), rugby in Australia, and Muay Thai in Thailand. I think this is one of the best and fastest ways to get a sense of the local culture since it involves competition, pride, celebration, and local food (and drink). Even as someone not too terribly concerned about which team won what (unless it’s baseball), I do my best to see at least one sport event during each trip.

Living in the metro Phoenix area, I can get my fix of Spring Training hardball by choosing from 15 of the 30 major league teams who ‘winter’ here and play at one of the 10 facilities spread across metropolitan Phoenix. I only really follow 3 teams and since 2 of them play in the Cactus League, I consider it a duty to get out and cheer for them, since I no longer live in their home cities. If the timing works, I try to get to at least 1 game each so I can channel my inner Ferris Bueller by playing hooky and catching a midday game, complete with a giant soft pretzel, peanuts, and cotton candy. The smell of sunscreen, freshly mown infield grass and sunshine make for some great close-to-home memories.

If you are planning to visit Arizona for Spring Training, here are some things to remember:

  • Start here, end here. It is a great way to kick off or wrap up Spring Break, especially if you have kids who love baseball. Be in the mountains within 2 hours or the beaches of Mexico in 4 hours and change. Day tripping is easy. Visit the Old Tucson Studios or Tombstone. Maybe make a night of it and check out Bisbee to the south, Prescott to the north. Just get here and start exploring!
  • Wide (not-so-open) spaces. Phoenix is a place of urban-sprawl, so know where you want to be before you book your hotel. If your sole purpose is to see as many games as you can, you are probably safest staying something in downtown Phoenix, Tempe, or Scottsdale. All these locations are close to East Valley venues and offer a lot more to do after the game. Additionally, they are close to the freeway to get you to the West Valley sites. Check out The Buttes in Tempe, Springhill Suites in downtown Phoenix, or the Courtyard Phoenix Camelback.
  • Public transportation. We have a lightrail system but it’s not much to write home about, so plan on renting a car. More on that later. The lightrail does have a few routes that may work for you and you can see them here.
  • Get some wheels. Book your car rental or hire car early and have a back-up plan. I’ve heard of people’s reservations not being honored due to a high demand for cars. You can avoid this by signing up for preferred membership with your rental car company of choice.
  • Opportunities for fun beyond baseball. You are in the Grand Canyon State, so take advantage of some excellent hiking with a quick trip to the red rock country of Sedona or the clean mountain air of Flagstaff, which sits at 7000 feet above sea level. Enjoy our unique Phoenix museums like the Heard or the MIM. You also have LOTS of golf, some great restaurants, and a pretty good beer scene from what I’m told.

I recently caught a game at Sloan Park, the off-season home to the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Since the Cubs are wildly popular with Arizona transplants, it is challenging to get tickets so I was pleased to score a seat for their game against Italy. While the Cubbies lost, it was a great time!

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I have no clue who these folks are, just baseball fans taking selfies in front of a sign.

 

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National Anthem Time!! Italy’s is really lovely and loooonnnnggg.

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More hits from Italy. They pulled Strop just after this play.

If you are not into baseball I haven’t forgot about you. How about a little Springtime casual fashion?  Here is what I wore to the game:
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  • My St. James Breton striped shirt from J Crew. Similar here.
  • Black cropped skinny pants (old, from Banana Republic)
  • Converse (played out or not, what else would I wear to a ball game?)
  • My Fossil Sydney statchel (no longer offered on the Fossil site, but you may be able to find them online)
  • One of my go-anywhere Olympus cameras, outfitted with a 45mm leans (90mm equivalent)

As you can tell from my photos, I was sitting under the mezzanine overhang, which provides full shade starting at 8am and knowing that I am always cold, I opted for a long-sleeved tee and a scarf. To be honest, I could have added a sweater and been cozier. If I had tickets in the sunny section or the lawn, I would have traded the long-sleeved tee for short sleeves, added a hat and slathered on even more sun block.

Spring Training is a great way to while away the hours as out-of-town visitor or backyard tourist. What do you think? Did I miss any important must-knows? Will you add this to your travel bucket list? Let me know in the comments.

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