By David Mullen
Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training camps in Arizona and Florida to get their games in shape. Most position players are also beginning team drills. Some players remained unsigned, like 2012 National League Rookie of the Year and 2015 Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper, former American League Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel and All-Star reliever Craig Kimbrel.
While those players are still looking for big paydays, there is no denying the economic impact that has taken place in the Arizona desert. While once a majority of teams trained in Florida’s Grapefruit League, today it is an even split of 15 teams in the greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area and 15 teams spread throughout Florida.
The proximity of the ballparks and the consistently warm weather in Arizona brought teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds and the Texas Rangers to the “Valley of the Sun.” Last year, 1,796,403 fans attended 223 games during approximately four weeks. Reports are that revenues generated by the Cactus League were more than $644.2 million.
I have been going to Cactus League games since the late 1970s. In college, instead of going to some vacation destination for spring break, it was a lot cheaper for a group of us to drive to Arizona. Back then, parking was free, games cost a couple of bucks and you had to depend on Scottsdale Road to get virtually anywhere.
Today, after negotiating with Native American controlling reservations in the area, major freeways are in place, as are large casinos. And the tickets and concession prices rival regular season games. But it is still a great place to spend time in March and, having been to all of the stadiums, here are some observations.
Surprise Recreation Campus, Surprise. Home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. Imagine driving down Fort Worth Avenue and it never ends. It seems like an eternal road of auto salvage yards and junk food joints. But once you get to the stadium, it is a gem. It is very reminiscent of the Frisco RoughRiders Park. The place is spotless, and the Rangers and Royals have separate offices on opposite sides of the field.
Not much to do out there, as the surrounding area is a retirement community. But USA Today, (surprisingly), rates the park the best in the Cactus League.
Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear. Home of the Cleveland Indians and the Reds. Another longish drive, but convenient to Interstate 10. It is nice that two in-state rivals can share a facility together. If you so desire, you can take a short detour to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, which has hosted two Super Bowls and multiple NCAA Championship games.
Hohokam Stadium, Mesa. Home of the Oakland Athletics. Former home of the Chicago Cubs. An expensive renovation has made this park extremely fan-friendly, and it is the easiest place to park of any of the stadiums. After, this is a great chance to go into Phoenix and eat at Tee Pee Mexican Food (opened in 1959) or The Vig off Indian School Road.
Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale. A classic park that was rebuilt in one offseason when the A’s moved out and the San Francisco Giants moved in. If you can park, you are set for a great afternoon of baseball, burgers and beers. Walk into Old Town Scottsdale — just blocks from the stadium — and don’t miss Blue Moose or AZ/88 in the outdoor Scottsdale Mall or Pattie’s First Avenue Lounge in Old Town.
Tempe Diablo Stadium (pictured below right), Tempe. Home of the Los Angeles Angels. It is the oldest park left in the Cactus League. It may be dated, but it gives you access to Arizona State University and all that goes with it.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale. Home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
Sloan Park, Mesa. Home of the Cubs. Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Phoenix. Home of the Chicago White Sox and the Dodgers. All new, shiny parks that just don’t have the character of the older parks.
American Family Fields of Phoenix (formerly Maryvale). Home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria. Home of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners. Both stadiums have just gone through major renovations.
No matter where you go, a good time will be had by all. And if you make it out to Surprise to see the Rangers, it could be your highlight of the season.