A User's Guide to the Cactus League -- Part 2

Lawn seats are a rite of passage at Spring Training. - Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

When the Rockies moved to Salt River Fields, they finally had a Spring Training facility to match the grandeur of Coors Field. But old or new, each Cactus League park has something great to offer—warm weather and baseball.

Yesterday's Part 1 covered some of the reasons for why Spring Training is a trip worth making, and some of the factors for deciding when to go. This Part 2 offers some thoughts on tickets, as well as a rundown of the 10 Cactus League parks.

Tickets at Spring Training range from inexpensive lawn seats (around $10) to seats behind home plate ($35 or more, depending on the park or game). For games where tickets are hard to get, secondary markets like Stubhub are the way to go. The one thing I've never seen at Spring Training are scalpers, but if you show up without a ticket, the box office likely will have tickets still available for many games. That said, my advice would be to buy in advance for games you want to see.

You don't need front-row seats to have a good time at Spring Training. To the contrary, sitting in the outfield lawn is a perfect way to experience a game in March. Just bring a picnic blanket and get to the park early to save an ideal seat. And if you're interested in moving closer during the game, many parks have broad, open concourses where you can stand near the infield or behind the plate.

Take advantage of the ballparks (like Salt River) that have nearby accessible practice fields. These backfields are a good place to catch players coming to and fro, if you're looking for an autograph during or after the game, and they're also a great way to see the behind-the-scenes of batting practice, infield drills, and pitching side sessions. So regardless of where you're sitting, get to the ballpark early in hopes of catching action on the backfields.

While all of the parks are in the Valley, the Phoenix metro is sprawling, so the parks on your agenda will influence whether you're ok with taking taxis or need to rent a car. Here's a very brief rundown on each, roughly listed in proximity to Scottsdale:

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick

Teams: Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 10-20 minutes

Parking Situation: Ample

Taxi from Scottsdale?: Doable

Summary: The shiny new ballpark in the Cactus League. Great sight-lines, plenty of shade in the bleacher seats, plenty of sun out on the lawn. The best feature of Salt River Fields is the easy access to practice fields and batting cages. Very often you can see players taking cuts or working on infield drills if you get to the game early.

Scottsdale Stadium

Team: San Francisco Giants

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 5-10 minutes

Parking Situation: Extremely limited - consider taking a cab if walking is too far

Taxi from Scottsdale?: Doable

Summary: Scottsdale Stadium isn't as nice as Salt River Fields, but it's still a great ballpark with a very Scottsdale feel. Plenty of people are there to watch their Giants, but plenty others are there for the social aspect of it. As a result, tickets are expensive and not always easy to get. I like Scottsdale Stadium, but if you're not there to see the Rockies, there are more affordable Spring Training options in the Valley.

Phoenix Municipal Stadium

Team: Oakland Athletics

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 10 minutes

Parking Situation: Ample

Taxi from Scottsdale?: Doable

Summary: Just as Oakland is the blue-collar counterpart to its fancier friends across the Bay, so Phoenix Muni is a more casual counterpart to Scottsdale Stadium. Some people don't like Phoenix Muni: it's older (the Phoenix Giants played there in the 1960s), there's no lawn seating, and a few seats have obstructed views. For my part, I love it. The ushers and concessionaries are cheery, the crowd is one of the best in the Cactus League, and it's usually easy to get good, inexpensive tickets.

Tempe Diablo Stadium

Team: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 10-15 minutes

Parking Situation: Limited

Taxi from Scottsdale?: Doable

Summary: Tempe Diablo is one of the smaller parks in the Cactus League, but that gives it an intimate more than a cramped feel. The back rows offer plenty of shade, a rarity in the older parks. The downsides to Tempe Diablo are lawn seating with a bit of an obstructed view, as well as parking. If you're going to Tempe Diablo, consider taking a taxi instead of driving.

HoHoKam Park

Team: Chicago Cubs

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 15 minutes

Parking Situation: Decent

Taxi from Scottsdale?: Doable

Summary: HoHoKam, surprisingly, is only 15 years old. It feels older in its seating arrangements and dark main concourse, which harkens Wrigley more than Arizona. But while the park is nondescript, the crowd is good, Old Style is served cold, and there are plenty of good vantage points to watch the game. Good seats can be difficult to get since Cubs fans travel well, but almost any ticket will buy you a fun experience. It's also one of the few Spring Training parks where fans tailgate before the game.

Maryvale Baseball Park

Team: Milwaukee Brewers

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 20 minutes

Parking Situation: Decent

Taxi from Scottsdale?: Iffy. Ok if you're splitting the fare with others.

Summary: The Brewers' home park gets a bad rap because it's situated in a neighborhood that's supposedly rough around the edges. I didn't find it to be that bad, but I wasn't going street by street. The ballpark itself has a great retro feel. It's closer to Phoenix Muni than Salt River Fields in terms of style, but it's a terrific spring training park. The sight-lines are clean, and tickets are usually easy to get. The crowd is friendly, but it's not the party atmosphere you'll get at other parks. It might not be worth travelling to Maryvale just to see the park and catch any old game, but if the Rockies are playing there, it's well worth the trip.

Peoria Sports Complex

Teams: Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 30-40 minutes

Parking Situation: Decent

Taxi from Scottsdale?: No, too far.

Summary: PSC is a contemporary of HoHoKam, built around the same time in the mid-90s. It lacks some of the more modern design features of newer parks like Salt River Fields, such as shaded seating. Bring your sunscreen to Peoria, because there's very little respite from the sun. The lawn seating isn't perfect for watching the games, but tickets are usually easy to get when the Mariners or Padres host the Rockies. The biggest downside to Peoria is the distance if you're staying in Scottsdale or Tempe. PSC is a bit of a drive, and a cab is out of the question.

Camelback Ranch

Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 40 minutes

Parking Situation: Ample

Taxi from Scottsdale?: No, too far.

Summary: Camelback Ranch is a terrific ballpark, but its name leads many people to believe it's near Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale. Not quite. It's on West Camelback Road, so nearly 40 minutes away from Tempe. The park is nice - comfortable seats, many of which are in the shade, and an expansive lawn area. It touches all the bases for what a modern Spring Training facility offers. The only downside is the drive.

Surprise Stadium

Teams: Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 45-50 minutes

Parking Situation: Ample

Taxi from Scottsdale?: No, too far.

Summary: Way out to the northwest of downtown Phoenix sits Surprise Stadium, a relatively new complex that offers modern amenities that the older parks lack. There's plenty of parking, comfortable seating, shade, and lawn seating in the outfield. Tickets usually are easy to get, as well, if you decide to make a last-minute decision to travel to Surprise. The only downside for a Rockies-centric trip is that it's so far away. If you're renting a car and don't mind the drive, it's a great place for a baseball game. Otherwise, you're better off with more convenient options.

Goodyear Ballpark

Teams: Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds

Drive Time from Scottsdale: 45-50 minutes

Parking Situation: Ample

Taxi from Scottsdale?: No, too far.

Summary: Due west of downtown Phoenix is the town of Goodyear, which opened its Spring Training facility for the Indians in 2009, with the Reds following a year later. Like Surprise Stadium, Goodyear Ballpark is modern, clean and has plenty of parking. It also has good seating with easy sight lines for the game. Tickets are easy to get, perhaps because the park is so far from Downtown, Scottsdale and Tempe.

Fans of Cactus League teams have a huge advantage over their Grapefruit League counterparts in terms of traveling to and from different ballparks. As you can see, none is more than an hour away from Scottsdale. But travel is a consideration, and when the Rockies play in the western Valley, I've usually opted to see other teams play in parks closer to where I was staying. One of the great things about Spring Training is that there's always baseball somewhere.

Travel also affects where you decide to stay for your trip. In Part 3, I'll cover places to stay, and things to do other than baseball, that might motivate which parks you see.

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