If you’re anything like me, you’ve been twitching in anticipation for the date that pitchers and catchers report. Now that everyone has arrived in Goodyear, fans can look forward to the first spring training game, which will take place on Friday, February 22. How should you best approach spring training, whether you’re hopping a flight to Arizona or looking to follow the games from your home? Here is my guide for how to get the most out of your spring training experience, whether you’re there or not.
Following From a Distance
If you’d like to follow every single inning of every single game this spring, you’re probably out of luck. Only a certain number of games will be broadcast on the radio, and even fewer on television. If you happen to have MLB TV, you may get lucky and find that the Indians’ opponent is broadcasting a game. That way, even if it’s not a Cleveland broadcast, you can still catch the action. Until Sunday, March 10, most of the games will take place at 3:05 p.m. ET.; that’s the day we turn the clocks ahead, which Arizona does not do. At that point, most of the games will take place at 4:05 ET, outside of a few night games, and a few games late in spring training that take place at noon Arizona time. Spring training, especially early in camp, can be a challenge to follow. Everyone plays just a couple of innings, and you really have to stay alert to catch all the substitutions throughout the afternoon. There have been times I’ve even heard the broadcasters say, “I have no idea who that player is.” These lesser known players usually have a high number (above 50) with no name on their jersey. Just look at Oscar Taveras, a highly touted prospect within the St. Louis Cardinals organization. After he was put into a game late last spring as a pinch runner, even the broadcast and graphics team couldn’t identify him. Upon showing him at third, they had a screen graphic that simply said “minor league guy/on third.”
Which games will be broadcast locally? Here is the list:
Friday, February 22 – Indians vs. Reds, 3:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Saturday, February 23 – Indians vs Reds, 3:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Sunday, February 24 – Indians vs. Reds, 3:05 ET on WMMS 100.7
Friday, March 1 – Indians vs. White Sox, 3:05 ET on 99X 99.1
Saturday, March 2 – Indians vs. Padres, 3:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Sunday, March 3 – Indians vs. Dodgers, 3:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Saturday, March 9 – Indians at Cubs, 3:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Sunday, March 10 – Indians vs. Rangers, 4:05 ET on WMMS 100.7
Friday, March 15 – Indians at Brewers, 4:05 ET on 99X 99.1
Sunday, March 17 – Indians vs. Reds, 4:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Saturday, March 23 – Indians at Mariners, 4:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Sunday, March 24 – Indians vs. Cubs, 4:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Thursday, March 28 – Indians at Padres, 3:05 ET on WMMS 100.7
Friday, March 29 – Indians at Royals, 3:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Saturday, March 30 – Indians vs. Reds, 3:05 ET on WTAM 1100
Sunday, March 17 – Indians vs. Reds, 4:05 ET on STO
Monday, March 18 – Indians vs. Milwaukee, 4:05 ET on STO
Thursday, March 21 – Indians at Diamondbacks, 4:10 ET on STO
Sunday, March 24 – Indians vs. Cubs, 4:05 ET on STO
Tuesday, March 26 – Indians vs. Athletics, 4:05 ET on STO
The final game of spring training is March 30 against the Reds. Even though many teams play a scrimmage in a major league park between their last spring training game and Opening Day, the Indians will not this year. They will travel directly to Toronto, where they will open the season on April 2.
If You’re Going
I’ve been lucky enough to make it to a fair number of spring trainings; in the past 10 years I’ve only missed two seasons – 2005 and 2008. (And in 2008 I did see some spring games in Arizona, since I was out there for a conference before the Indians moved there.) Last spring I wrote about some of my memories of Winter Haven, as well as some of my Goodyear memories if you’re interested in some more nostalgic views of both facilities. I’ve been fortunate to attend every spring training in Arizona so far, and have visited all of the parks except for three (which I plan to tackle this year). I figured I would take the opportunity to give some advice to people who may be going for the first time, or that haven’t quite gotten the hang of baseball in the desert.
If you visited Winter Haven, one of the major pluses of the complex (in my opinion) is that the major and minor league complexes, the practice fields, and the stadium are all grouped together. You park in the lot, you wander around to the other fields before you go in to the game. In Goodyear, the stadium is separate from the minor league complex and the practice fields. It’s about 3/4 of a mile away, so you can see it from the stadium, but it’s a decent walk down to it. A lot of the players are transported back and forth on golf carts, so you’ll see a number of those darting around the area. It’s not a huge hassle; I just miss the days of walking outside of the stadium and seeing the practice fields right there. Most years in Goodyear, I don’t even bother walking down there.
As far as traveling to the stadium, it’s relatively simple. Since I attend the Nine Journal of Baseball Spring Training Conference each year, I typically stay in Tempe at the conference hotel. Goodyear is well west of downtown Phoenix, while Tempe is just east of downtown (and the home to Arizona State University). I just hop on I-10 and head over to Goodyear. There are a few exits you could take, but I typically use the Estrella Parkway. You make a left from the ramp after you exit I-10, and the ballpark will be on your left a bit down the road. This route means that you park at the back of the stadium, on the outfield side. You’ll want to walk around to see the front of the stadium, as well as the unique “Ziz” statue, but otherwise I’ve found that parking out there makes it much easier to get in and out. If you ever sat in a traffic jam on Rt. 540 in Winter Haven while waiting to get in and out of the parking lot, Goodyear will seem like a breeze by comparison. Sometimes you will hit traffic on I-10 around Phoenix after the game (if you don’t stay in Goodyear) just because it’s basically rush hour by that point.
Where do you sit once you get there? I’ve sat all over the ballpark, and there’s fairly good sight lines everywhere. If you want a cheap seat, you can just buy a ticket for the grass berm and lounge out there for the game. Most of the seats are not undercover; there’s only a roof over a small section on the third base side. However, for a good chunk of the day the seats behind home plate end up being in the shade. One word of warning – if you choose to sit on either the first base or third base dugout, make sure to wear sunblock and continue to apply it throughout the day. Because not only will you get burned (duh, it’s Arizona) but you will end up with a Phantom of the Opera-esque burn on just one side of your face. I’m very absent minded about remember block; there are years where I burned the left side of my face, then had to go sit on the other side of the park the next day in order to burn the right side. If the Indians are the home team, they’ll be in the first base dugout. When I first started going out there in 2009, the crowds were relatively small. Maybe only 1,000-2,000 per game, which looked worse since Goodyear is a much bigger ballpark than Winter Haven. It’s built steadily each year, and there were a few games last year that were fairly crowded. Particularly the day the Rangers were there and Yu Darvish pitched.
I used to be obsessed with getting autographs; I’d stake out places and stalk players until I got who I wanted. Most times now, I don’t bother with it. I’d rather sit back and relax and watch players do drills or throw. There are a few spots for autographs though – if you camp out around the railing on the first base side, a lot of players will sign prior to the game. Some will sign after as well, but the bigger stars are usually long gone by that point. You can also find players down the road at the practice fields. Some days the Indians will have a table near the home plate entrance with one or two players signing in front of the team shop. Last year, they limited the number of people that could obtain autographs though. It typically hasn’t been any big stars (when I was there) – I’ve caught Andy Marte, Chris Gimenez, Gregorio Petit, and Chen Chang Lee at the table in the past.
One of the things I like about the parks in Arizona, is that many of them (in addition to their regular concessions) have food trucks or little tents from local restaurants. It adds a bit of diversity in addition to the normal ballpark foods. Even though Goodyear has a lot of extra space that could accommodate things like this, I didn’t see any outside restaurants until last year. I’m hoping this will start a trend, because it’s really neat to see some of the more unique food options.
The best thing about the Cactus League, compared to the Grapefruit League, is that all of the ballparks are relatively close to each other. I know there were times I was in Florida and I’d think “maybe I’ll go see the Indians’ away game today” and would then realize they were all the way down in Port St. Lucie. In Phoenix, it’s not really a hassle to go watch the Indians away from Goodyear. Plus the proximity means that you’re more likely to see some of the other team’s star players. (In Florida, bigger stars typically wouldn’t want to sit on a bus for three hours). Here are a few things about the other Cactus League parks:
Camelback Ranch – Glendale, AZ – Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers: This is a relatively new facility that opened at the same time as Goodyear. The White Sox had trained in Tucson, at the lovely Tucson Electric Park with the Diamondbacks. Once they left and went to Phoenix, the D-Backs and Rockies (who played at Hi-Corbett Field in Tucson) moved north as well. The Dodgers had trained in Vero Beach for decades, but made the jump closer to home. This is one of the parks I’ve yet to visit, but I’ve heard nothing but positives about it.
Hohokam Park – Mesa, AZ – Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are one of the largest draws in the Cactus League. Hohokam is only about 15-years-old, but the Cubs recently announced they would build a new facility in Mesa. Hohokam is nice enough, but it’s very crowded. It’s the only spring training park where I’ve ever seen vendors outside selling hot dogs, souvenirs, etc. Mesa is a good haul east of Phoenix, so it may not be worth it for the crowded hassle.
Maryvale Stadium – Phoenix, AZ – Milwaukee Brewers: My first year at Goodyear, I sat next to a woman that was an Arizona native. She told me that in the past, Maryvale was considered “far out” in terms of stadiums since it is west of Phoenix. She laughed about the fact that now Maryvale is perceived as being “in town” with the addition of further-out parks like Goodyear. This is one of the others I’ve yet to see.
Peoria Sports Complex – Peoria, AZ – San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners: This stadium was fairly far out there, and for me, wasn’t anything special. It takes a while to get there, since you have to take non-highway roads with stop lights in order to reach it. It’s easy to get in and out of as far as parking and traffic, but it’s fairly bland in my opinion.
Phoenix Municipal Stadium – Phoenix, AZ – Oakland Athletics: This is an older park and pretty close to downtown. Even though it was also nothing special, it had a unique vibe and I enjoy seeing games there. Since it’s fairly convenient to get to it and park, I’d recommend it if you want to catch an away game.
Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, AZ – San Francisco Giants: I have basically vowed never to go back to Scottsdale Stadium, which is kind of a shame. The park itself is nothing spectacular, but it has a nice feel to it. The only problem is that it’s ridiculously crowded; and I was there before the Giants won the World Series. It was hard to even move through the concourses, and a lot of the seating was flat, metal bleachers like in Winter Haven. The worst part about this stadium is the parking situation. Scottsdale is a lovely little town with shops, galleries and restaurants. However, there is not much parking down by the stadium. Unless you’re an hour or two early for the game, you could end up getting gouged for parking…if you can even find parking. We were at the point where we were ready to pay any price, just to get out of the car and get into the stadium. And we were about an hour and a half early.
Surprise Stadium, Surprise, AZ – Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers: I’ve yet to visit this stadium, but I’ve heard nice things about it. Like Peoria, Surprise is another stadium that is fairly far out there, and lacks a direct expressway route. Goodyear may be far to the west, but the park is just a mile or two off of I-10, the main east-west route.
Tempe Diablo Stadium – Tempe, AZ – Los Angeles Angels: This is actually in walking distance from the hotel in which I typically stay. I have no idea of the parking situation, but it’s a nice little park. For some reason, it kind of reminds me of Angel Stadium in Anaheim on a smaller scale. They have a good number of tents from local restaurants, so there’s usually a good food and drink selection.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – Scottsdale, AZ – Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies: This is the newest of all of the parks, and first opened in 2011. It sits on a Native American reservation and is phenomenal. All of the practice fields are around the stadium; I walked past some going from the parking lot to the stadium. The building is gorgeous and it has a great food selection – anytime you can get cheesecake on a stick at the ballpark, it’s a good day. Everything tastes better on a stick.
Whether you’re traveling west or not, it’s still good that baseball is starting back up and that it won’t be long before the season starts. Spring training is a bit longer this year, due to the World Baseball Classic, although the negative is that some of the WBC players will be missing from camp for much of the spring. Even if you can’t be in Arizona from March 7-10 (when the WBC games take place) there are a few random scrimmages around the Cactus League between MLB teams and WBC teams. The Indians are not playing in any, but you may want to check some of the other Phoenix area teams. If you want to see some pictures of the Cactus League, here is my photo diary from last spring. Hopefully you’ll be able to catch some games this spring; whether it’s in person, on the radio, or on TV.