Can you believe it – spring training games start on Tuesday as the Indians take on the Reds at Goodyear. As I did last year, and in 2013, I wanted to give you some tips if you’re heading west to the Cactus League, or just planning to watch (or listen) from the comfort of your home.
Following from a Distance:
Games are starting almost a week later than they did last year, on Tuesday, March 3 against the Reds (compared to February 26 last year). Every year since both teams moved to Goodyear (the Indians since 2009, the Reds since 2010) they kick off the spring training season against each other. There will be quite a few games televised this year, and pretty much every game will be broadcast on the radio, via WTAM 1100, 100.7, 99.1 and MLB.com. Games will start at 3:05 p.m. ET until March 8; then it will be at 4:05 ET (since we’ll be turning our clocks ahead and Arizona does not).
Televised on Sports Time Ohio (hope you like the Reds):
March 3 vs. Reds
March 4 vs. Reds
March 5 vs. Reds
March 10 vs. Cubs
March 12 vs. Royals
March 17 vs. Reds
March 23 vs. A’s
March 26 vs. Reds
Televised on MLB Network:
March 3 vs. Reds (on delay)
March 4 vs. Reds (on delay)
March 5 vs. Reds (on delay)
March 7 vs. Dodgers (on delay)
March 9 vs. Mariners
March 10 vs. Cubs (on delay)
March 12 vs. Royals (on delay)
March 14 vs. Dodgers (on delay)
March 19 vs. Mariners (10:05 p.m. ET start time)
March 22 vs. Dodgers (on delay)
March 23 vs. Oakland
March 29 vs. White Sox (on delay)
While it may seem trivial to mention this, don’t forget that you’ll only see the bigger name players for an inning or two (if at all) at the beginning of the spring training season. They’ll get stretched out as the spring progresses. I’ve actually heard people complain about this when I’ve attended spring training games. Someone said that “they weren’t going to come back next year because they won’t put in any of the good players.” I don’t think they understand the concept of spring training.
If you’re going:
I haven’t missed a season since the Indians moved to Goodyear, so I’ve managed to see all of the Cactus League parks and have a pretty good feel for everything in the Phoenix area. Most of these teams are stationed in various suburbs; many of which look fairly similar. I typically stay in Tempe, on the east side of town; Goodyear is fairly far west. Remember if you’re traveling from one side of Phoenix to the other, particularly during rush hour, there will be traffic. Sometimes lots and lots of traffic. I typically don’t have problems driving over to Goodyear, since I go around 10-11 a.m. But around 4 p.m., it can get pretty interesting driving back to the other side of town. So just remember to take that into account if you’re traveling at rush hour…it’s not a matter of *if* you’ll get stuck in traffic, just how long you’re going to be stuck (usually a very long time, or a pretty long time).
If you stay outside of Goodyear, like me, Goodyear is relatively easy to reach. You just head west of downtown on I-10 until you get to the Estrella Parkway exit (there are several you can take, but this always seems to be the easiest). You turn left off the exit ramp and the stadium will be on your left a mile or so down the road, you can park at the back side of the stadium, outside of the outfield gate. Couldn’t be easier. I don’t seem to have issues with traffic once I get to Goodyear; when I used to go to Florida, I always used to hit traffic on Route 540 in Winter Haven.
Speaking of Winter Haven – the one thing I miss about the Indians’ days in the Grapefruit League was the fact that all of the minor league fields were right outside of the stadium. You could go early and take a leisurely walk around the rest of the complex before going in to watch the game. At Goodyear, the rest of the complex is almost a mile down the road (the Reds’ complex is also about a mile away). It’s not a huge inconvenience, but I miss the days of everything being right there. It’s still worth a trip down there – you can often get some really great pictures and some autographs. Plus the players are often right there (even if you did have to walk).
Once you’re at the park in Goodyear, where should you sit? Where should you go for autographs? I really haven’t sat anywhere that I consider a bad seat, and I’ve sat on the grass outfield berm and in seats all over the park. One thing that’s better than Winter Haven is that the seats are actual seats; in Florida a lot of them were boiling hot metal bleachers. There is less shade in Goodyear, and you have to be really careful when sitting down the first base or third base lines. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up with a Phantom of the Opera-esque burn on just one side of my face because of the way the sun shines, and because I apparently don’t know how to properly apply sun block.
I’ve never bothered buying tickets ahead of time, since it’s a 10,000 seat park that usually has between 2,000 and 6,000 people in attendance. If there are teams like the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants visiting though, or a night game, ticket sales seem to increase. I have noticed that there seem to be more and more visiting Ohioans each year that I’ve been there. Players often sign autographs by their dugout prior to the game – the Indians are in the first base dugout if they’re the home team. I’m sure you can get some down the street at the team complex as well, but I’ve become somewhat burned out on getting autographs and usually don’t bother. They often have a couple of players signing at a table when you enter at the home plate entrance, but it usually seems to be limited on a first come, first served basis. They hand out a set number of tickets, and once those are gone, no more autographs. I got Andy Marte’s autograph at this table one year (it’s super valuable now).
What’s the weather like? How about “not Cleveland.” At this point, 35 degrees and no snow starts to sound pretty great to me, so really anything Arizona has to offer at this point will be better. For the most part, the temperatures seem to hover in the mid-to-upper 70s, although I’ve seen extremes. In 2013, for example, I saw both ends of the spectrum – when I first arrived it was rainy and cold (low 50s for the high). I had on jeans, a sweatshirt, and a coat and still felt chilly. The first game I went to, a matchup between the Indians and Royals, was actually rained out in the second or third inning. By the end of my trip there were record high temperatures – highs around 98 or 99 degrees. I was thankful that I brought a diverse collection of clothing with me. Remember it often seems kind of cool at night, even if it was hot during the day. And stepping into the shade makes the temperature drop considerably. In Florida, it usually seems hot and humid no matter where you stand. Out there, there actually is some relief in the shade.
Important travel tip – If you fly into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, and plan to rent a car, you have to go to the off-site rental car facility. You wait outside of the baggage claim, and a little shuttle takes you a few miles to the place where you’ll pick up your car. Someone once told me that if you select anywhere except for “airport” when booking your rental, you’ll save a lot of money. I thought to myself, “The rental car shuttle is free…will the savings be worth it after I pay a cab to go to a different site?” I decided to check – last year I saved about $180 for the week by looking at an off-site location. This year, after I factored in taxi fare, it wasn’t much of a savings. To save on the hassle of dragging my luggage all over Phoenix, I just selected the airport pick-up. So toy around with the rental car pickup locations until you find a good deal. If you’re planning to attend games around Phoenix, you pretty much have to rent a car. There’s no public transportation to some of the outlying suburbs, and a taxi trip could be at least $40-$50 (and it’s been a couple of years since I priced it).
Other Cactus League Parks:
One of the things I really like about the Cactus League is the proximity of all of the other parks. In the Grapefruit League, there were a handful of teams within a reasonable driving distance and a number of them several hours away. So if you’d like to follow the Indians around the greater Phoenix area, here are the other parks and some of my thoughts on them:
Camelback Ranch – Glendale, AZ – Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers: The name may sound like some kind of strip club, but believe it or not, this is a ballpark. It opened at the same time as Goodyear, as the White Sox moved north from their old spring home in Tucson, Arizona, and the Dodgers moved west from their legendary Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. I really, really like this park and it never seems to be too crowded. The yellow seats are reminiscent of Dodger Stadium, but the stone work around the park is definitely unique to the Glendale facility. It was aesthetically pleasing, spacious, and had plenty of shade. I’m always surprised when I go there and practically have the place to myself – whether I’m there to see the Indians play the White Sox or Dodgers. An Arizona native told me that many of the parks on the west side of Phoenix don’t draw the fans that you see at the east side parks. I’ve never had to pay for parking either, which was a big surprise for parking in an official stadium lot, a very short walk from the front door.
Hohokam Stadium – Mesa, AZ – Oakland Athletics: Hohokam was just too old and out-of-date for the Cubs (it was built in 1997) so when they moved into their new facility last year, the Athletics decided to move into their old digs. Oakland had been at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the Cactus League’s oldest park (but still one of my favorites). Arizona State’s baseball program moved into Phoenix Municipal, so I guess everyone is happy and no stadium went to waste. I’ve heard that the A’s did some remodeling at Hohokam, so I don’t know how different it will look compared to when I went there a few years ago. At the time it was nice, slightly reminiscent of Wrigley Field from the outside. I remember parking being a bit difficult, but the Cubs are a much bigger draw compared to the A’s. Fewer people may make it easier to get in and out of the park.
Maryvale Stadium – Phoenix, AZ – Milwaukee Brewers: When I told people I wanted to go over to Maryvale to see the Indians, there was often silence, followed by “well, be careful.” Followed by, “well, you’re going during the day…it should be fine.” Despite the somewhat vague and dire warnings, I didn’t see anything wrong with the immediate area, except for the weird fact that there were a lot of cinder block walls. Every neighborhood must feel like some kind of prison with all of those block walls surrounding the perimeter. Supposedly the Brewers stay over by Tempe and drive across Phoenix to Maryvale for games, because even they don’t want to stay in Maryvale (it’s one of the closer, west side suburbs). Maryvale Stadium was nice enough, but the seats were a faded blue, as if they hadn’t been maintained or cared for properly. It was nothing special, but it definitely wasn’t the nightmare that I thought it would be when talking to others about it. Parking and getting in and out of the lot seemed simple enough. I’ve heard the Brewers would like to leave and get a new home, but since they’re not the Cubs, maybe nobody cares.
Peoria Sports Complex – Phoenix, AZ – San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners: Because every team now needs a new stadium constantly, this has become one of the older parks in the Cactus League – the Padres and Mariners began training there in 1994. This facility is kind of far out there, and there wasn’t really a direct highway leading to it. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but at least it was easy to get in and out of it. I don’t really have anything bad or good to say about this place, it’s just kind of there.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick – Scottsdale, AZ – Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies: Until Sloan Park opened last spring, this was the Cactus League’s newest facility; it opened in 2011. It still is the best, in my opinion, and is definitely worth a trip if you find yourself in Arizona this spring. First of all, it’s incredibly beautiful. It was built on a Native American reservation, and has all of the practice fields just outside of the main stadium (what I loved about Winter Haven). It has incredible food choices – frozen cheesecake on a stick, chocolate covered fruit on a stick, and big gulps of sangria are three of my favorites. My one warning about this park is that games often sell out, even though it has a 10,000 seat capacity. If you want to go, it’s probably a good idea to buy your tickets in advance. Traffic can also bottle up getting in and out of the parking lot, depending on your timing.
Scottsdale Stadium – Scottsdale, AZ – San Francisco Giants: After I first went to a game at Scottsdale Stadium in 2010, I vowed never to return as long as I lived. It was a nice enough park, but nothing spectacular (and yes, I know it won best stadium in 2012). For a park that was just “nice enough,” it wasn’t worth the hassle to me to deal with the crowds and the parking situation. The crowds were bad and this was before the Giants’ first World Series win – I imagine it only got worse from there. Plus, even though I love the Scottsdale area, it’s a tourist locale. So you have people there for the game, and for the shops and the restaurants; which means that parking is scarce and it’s at a premium. People try and sell spots in their driveways, and everywhere is extremely expensive – we were about an hour and a half early and still ended up paying $10 to park. Even that was more than I’ve ever paid for parking at a Cactus League game, and we were lucky; we knew folks that ended up forking over $20 to park. I went back in 2013 for a night game though, and while the park was still a crowded mess, the parking situation was a bit improved. So I guess if you’re intent on seeing this place, pick a night or weekend game where parking may not be as much of a disaster (because with workers gone, it will free up some of the lots in town). One bonus is that it seems like there are a number of veterans that hang out at this park signing autographs for charity. For $20 (for ball and autograph) I’ve gotten balls signed by Lee Smith, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue to name a few of them. (Lee Smith is an awesome and friendly guy, by the way).
Sloan Park – Mesa, AZ – Chicago Cubs: This park just opened in 2014, and used to be referred to as “Cubs Park.” For as much eye rolling as I did when I heard the Cubs *needed* a new park, I couldn’t help but be impressed by this place. They had a replica of of the giant “Welcome to Wrigley Field” marquis on their park in Chicago. It had a digital portion at the bottom, where you could personalize a message and stand in line to get a picture of the sign with your message. You had to wait in a (very long) line to get your message on it, but it was still a neat idea. It had an incredible scoreboard, and neat pictures of some of the old Cubs bear images from the twentieth century on the outer wall. This place not only sells out, they have an abundance of scalpers roaming around outside trying to sell tickets. Last season I bought a ticket early since I knew the Indians were going to be there. A few friends decided at the last minute they were going to come with me – they ended up paying a scalper like $30 a piece for lawn seats. So unless you want to be bled dry, make sure you get tickets well in advance. Despite the enormous crowd, it was easy enough to get in and out of the parking lot. So either I got lucky, or they do a pretty good job of managing a lot of traffic.
Surprise Stadium – Surprise, AZ – Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers: This is probably the “furthest out” stadium in the Cactus League, well north and west of Phoenix. Unfortunately my only trip there was a rain-out in the second or third inning back in 2013. It did give me a lot of time to walk around and explore though, and I found this to be a really nice park. It had a merry go round, and was really pretty. I didn’t have to pay for parking when I was there, and I was able to park fairly close (although I’m sure the threat of rain scared people away). Even though it’s a haul to get there, it’s worth seeing if you have the opportunity.
Tempe Diablo Stadium – Tempe, AZ – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: This is a nice little park, in walking distance from where I stay. I haven’t been there for a few years, but I’ve heard that the Angels have really elevated the prices post-Albert Pujols signing. It has a good selection of food and drinks, and has nice open concourses that are easy to navigate even when it’s crowded. It’s near the highway, but I’m not sure what the parking situation is like (I always walk there). There are a number of rickshaws that wait outside after games hoping to deliver fans to their intended destination, so it provides a unique transportation option. It’s reminiscent of the actual Angel Stadium in California; different, but still reminds you of their home park.
It feels good to have baseball back, even if it’s just spring training. Before you know it, Opening Day will be here (if they can still play in snow, because it will probably snow).