February is here, and that means the start of baseball season — the Spring Training part, anyway. We’ve all survived the long, harsh, non-baseball months of December and January (and November, for those who don’t live in Phoenix for Arizona Fall League!) and in just a few short days we’ll all rejoice to hear the crack of the bats, the pop of the gloves, and see all of our favorite players take the field once again.
I attended my first spring training game when I was just two years old — California Angels vs. Oakland Athletics at Tempe Diablo Stadium. My grandfather was a HUGE baseball fan and made sure that we attended spring training whenever he came to visit us in Phoenix. The game was delayed on account of bees — something surprisingly common in Phoenix during springtime! After my grandfather passed and my family moved to Denver, we didn’t spend as much time around baseball until Rocktober 2007 re-sparked our interest. Even then, we never made the trek back down to Phoenix for Spring Training. It wasn’t until after I moved back to Arizona in 2011 that I started attending games regularly. I have now attended at least one game in each of the ten parks.
Cactus League/SRF History
Arizona is home to the Cactus League, and has been since 1947. Since 2010, it hosts 15 teams in 10 stadiums all within a 47-mile radius around the Phoenix Metro Area. It is the greatest concentration of professional sports facilities in the United States. More common in Arizona than Florida, five of those stadiums are shared between two teams. Peoria Sports Complex in northwestern Phoenix was the first stadium in Arizona to adopt the two-team model in 1994 with the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. Only the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Milwaukee Brewers have their own stadiums.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies currently share Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale. The stadium opened in 2011 and is the first Major League Baseball Spring Training Facility to be built on Native American land. It seats 11,000 fans and has 12 practice fields and office buildings spanning over 140 acres. In the fall, it is home to the Salt River Rafters for Arizona Fall League.
Quick ballpark guide
I’ve been to each of the ten stadiums sprawled around the greater Phoenix area. I went to Tempe Diablo when I was a kid, so I don’t remember it very well and plan to go again this season to take it all in. Below are some tips for attending Spring Training in sunny Arizona!
HoHoKam Stadium is located in Mesa and is home to the Oakland A’s. It is the former home of the Chicago Cubs, who moved to Sloan Park after the 2013 spring season. When the Cubs moved out, the stadium underwent a $26.9 million renovation. When it was finished, the A’s moved out of Phoenix Municipal Stadium (now home of the Arizona State Sun Devils) and over to Mesa. During that renovation, 3,074 seats were removed and it was painted to reflect the team colors. They also installed the largest scoreboard in the Cactus League in left field. The stadium offers lots of unique Bay Area food options such as an Oakland Dog (green chili mac and cheese, bacon bits) and California Dog (guacamole, tomatoes, jack cheese), as well as an Ike’s Love and Sandwich stand. Overall it was a fine stadium. Not overly memorable, but still nice.
American Family Fields of Phoenix (previously Maryvale Stadium), spring home of the Milwaukee Brewers, is located in the Maryvale neighborhood of Phoenix, which is known for not being a great part of town. Because of that, you won’t see any night games being played there. However, it is a wonderful stadium (and renovated for the 2019 season) and I truly enjoyed my experience there! It also happened to be my tenth stadium (bingo!) and on St. Patrick’s Day, so that might’ve also helped with some of the charm. It’s a simple ballpark and much like Petco Park in San Diego, the entrance is right at street level without any exterior facade. The playing field itself is recessed, and it’s also the only Cactus League park in which you unfortunately can’t see the mountains. But the Brewers, like the Cubs, brought a lot of their home stadium traditions west with them. You can enjoy the Klement’s Sausage Race in the sixth inning and the playing of “Roll Out the Barrel” in the seventh. It’s a simple, yet charming and elegant ballpark. I highly recommend making the trek out to this park if you are able!
Camelback Ranch in Glendale is the spring home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. The stadium was built in 2009, luring the Dodgers away from Vero Beach and the White Sox away from Tucson. Vin Scully acted as the master of ceremonies for the groundbreaking in 2007. I attended an AFL game here in November and was blown away with how beautiful it was! The architecture is amazing and it has amazing views, including a man-made two acre lake and numerous walking trails around the complex. The only downside is that the park faces southeast — the complete opposite of any other park in the greater Phoenix area. Because of that, there is almost no shade so bring your sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat! However, in 2018 they did install two “shade structures” along the first baseline to try to help, so that helps a little.
Sloan Park, the newest Cactus League stadium and home of the Chicago Cubs, is located on the border of Tempe and Mesa just southeast of Phoenix. It’s only a few miles from Arizona State University’s Downtown Tempe Campus and Sun Devil Stadium. It truly embodies its nickname “Wrigleyville West” with many relics of the original stadium. Probably the most distinguishable of those are a replica of the Wrigley Field Marquee just inside the first base gate and the singing of “Go Cubs Go” after Cubs win at the park. Fans even sang it after the AFL game I went to in 2016, which also happened to be during Game 3 of the NLCS vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s a fun stadium, but a little tricky to get tickets to unless you’ve already bought them. Even if you are lucky enough to get them, parking can be difficult also. If you want to see it, I honestly suggest waiting until AFL.
Surprise Stadium is located in the booming town of Surprise (Arizona has some strangely named towns — Tombstone anyone?) in northwestern Phoenix. It is the home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers and has been since 2003. It’s a really nice double-decker stadium in which the entire second level is shaded, but those seats are hard to come by. The whole grandstand has some southern charm to it, and it looks almost like a horse racetrack grandstand. It’s really cute and also offers a plethora of fun food options! You can get roasted corn, puffy tacos, regular or curly fries, or a “Snowie” shaved ice — which are really nice in the Valley of the Sun! If those aren’t something you’re interested in, you can also bring your own food as long as it is in a clear plastic bag and can fit under a standard stadium seat. My only gripe is that the concourse tends to bottleneck due to concessions, but overall it’s a really nice stadium.
Peoria Sports Complex — the oldest stadium in the West Valley — is also located in the heart of a shopping center (Peoria Eighty Three or “P83” as it’s known locally). It’s also near Arrowhead Mall, so there are plenty of shopping and dining options nearby! The park itself features a Wiffle Ball field in its Kids Zone that is a ⅓ replica of a major league infield and a giant pirate ship playground just inside the gates. For adults, it features one of the greatest selections of craft beers and whiskey. If that isn’t enough, the first game played here each spring is a charity match between the Mariners and Padres where the proceeds are donated to local charities!
I’ve only attended AFL games at Scottsdale Stadium, but it’s a really nice park also. It’s an old-school brick stadium made up of a mix of stadium seating and bleachers, and it has a gorgeous view of the famous Camelback Mountain. You also get a gorgeous view of your drink because they don’t put lids on their cups! It’s right in the middle of historic Old Town Scottsdale, east of Phoenix, so there’s plenty to do around the stadium but that can make parking a challenge. I suggest calling ahead to make sure the game isn’t sold out and if it’s not, you can park in a nearby lot and take the trolley!
I really enjoyed attending Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, AZ, spring home to the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds in a western suburb of Phoenix. Despite it being a far drive, I consider it my second favorite. When you enter, you’ll see the unique sculpture called “The Ziz” — a 60’6” statue inspired by the aviation history in Goodyear. Because of its distant location, there’s not much to do around this particular stadium, but the design itself is nice and simple. It has a unique three-story grandstand. The bottom story is regular patron seating, the second story is a suite-style party room, and the third story is a large group area. From the top level, you can even see University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals. There’s also a party deck in right field, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re looking to catch the players training, you’ll have to drive about five minutes since the player development complexes are kept separate from the game stadium.
One tiny perk that I really liked also was the fact that they not only have the giant souvenir soda cups, but they also have souvenir beer cups that aren’t as large. They’re the perfect size to bring home and use on a regular basis without using up half of a gallon of milk!
I’m saving the best for last here. Obviously, as Rockies fans, you’re probably going to spend most of your time in Scottsdale at Salt River Fields. Salt River Fields is my favorite stadium for a lot of reasons, but the best part about it is the fact that you can really get up close to a lot of the players and personnel. Sometimes, the players even have to walk through the fans to get between fields in which they may even stop to meet fans on their way.
I remember the first time that I went to watch a morning practice. I was on the Diamondbacks’ side of the stadium wearing my Rockies gear and one of the minor league pitching coaches approached me and asked if I was looking for the Rockies. We talked for a good 10 minutes on how his son was trying to make the Rockies’ roster while also discussing the teams for a little while before he gave me some directions on the closest way to get to the Rockies side if security would let me through (which they didn’t). Even beyond that, just because of proximity I’ve been able to hold full conversations with guys like Jon Gray, Charlie Blackmon, Tony Wolters, Archie Bradley, Patrick Corbin, and Braden Shipley as they were moving between areas. Talk about up close and personal!
Be sure to check out Butters Pancakes & Café right across the street at the intersection of Via de Ventura and Hayden Road. Not only do they have amazing food, but it’s a favorite among players, coaches, and locals alike and you might run into some guys there!
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Spring Training is such a wonderful time of year! It’s the signal of the start of baseball season, the thaw of spring into summer (which is not so awesome for us Phoenicians, but such is life), and it’s a great time to see some of our favorite players and new faces begin their journeys to the World Series up close. Salt River Fields is a remarkable stadium on so many levels, but the other stadiums are just as unique and have just as much to offer. Check some of them out and see for yourself which ones you enjoy and which you don’t but make sure you root, root, root for the Rockies in 2019! Single digit days until baseball is back!