The Rockies are tentatively scheduled to kick off spring training games in 39 days. We don’t know for sure if the schedule will start on time, but we can yearn for warmer days ahead as we look out the window and wait for spring.
The Rockies were able to play 17 spring training games last year. They played a game in eight of the 10 Cactus League venues. The last game that allowed a Rockies fan in attendance was on March 10 against the Cincinnati Reds, as the COVID-19 shutdown came shortly after. The 2021 slate will again be abnormal, and if MLB takes the lead of other pro teams in Phoenix, there is a good chance Cactus League games will be closed to the public this year. Double-A and Single-A teams will see their schedules delayed, which means the spring training backfields won’t be as populated as normal. There is a good chance spectators won’t be allowed on backfields at all, given the provisions that called for the minor league halt.
If we are unable to frequent the Cactus League ballparks like before, our memories of spring trainings past will grow more distant—and our hearts will grow even more fond.
Let’s pretend, at least for a minute, that the world is normal again. February 27th is the scheduled start of the Cactus League, when the baseball world for Rockies fans can begin anew. Here are the locations the Rockies will make their return:
Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks (Arizona Fall League: Salt River Rafters)
Scottsdale, AZ — Opened: 2011 — Capacity: 11,000
Here is the beloved spring home of the Colorado Rockies. The venue remains one of the premier in the Cactus League 10 years after opening, and there are few places in Scottsdale that a 13-field complex could be constructed with such prime accessibility.
Bullpens are located down both the first base and third base line; fans can freely walk up to the railing and watch pitchers warm up with extreme proximity. The Rockies’ team shop is located beyond the right field foul pole, and their bullpen and dugout sits on the first base side. Salt River Fields has one of the most spacious outfield lawns for spectator seating, and between the McDowell Mountains and Talking Stick Resort beyond the outfield (and TopGolf!), the ballpark features one of the most picturesque backdrops in all of spring training.
The six backfields north of the stadium are operated by the Diamondbacks, while the Rockies use the six to the south. The stadium gates can be accessed via walkways through the full complex, and two of Colorado’s backfields are built to the exact dimensions of Coors Field.
Salt River Fields is the only spring training venue of its kind, located on tribal land operated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The complex is easily found along Arizona Loop 101, and the access to Talking Stick Resort is a viable reason for many Rockies fans to venture south in the spring.
(One downside to Salt River Fields—it doesn’t have a purple row.)
San Francisco Giants (Arizona Fall League: Scottsdale Scorpions)
Scottsdale, AZ — Opened: 1992 — Capacity: 12,000
This ballpark could very well have the best surrounding area out of all Cactus League venues. Scottsdale Stadium is located just blocks from Old Town Scottsdale and it has a classic ‘ballpark’ feel from the park itself to the surrounding neighborhood. While it is one of the older venues, it certainly doesn’t lack the affluence of a newer one. A recent remodel of the Giants’ facilities has enhanced the venue even more.
This ballpark can get packed in a hurry; parking is extremely limited and the heart of Scottsdale puts tickets at a premium. (This is the only place I’ve ever seen an usher check a lawn ticket. That’s like checking a ticket in the Rockpile.)
It is common for spring venues to have backfields within immediate walking distance of the main stadium; Scottsdale Stadium is not one of those. There is one auxiliary field beyond right field, but the rest of the Giants’ backfields are located a few miles away.
Chicago Cubs (Arizona Fall League: Mesa Solar Sox)
Mesa, AZ — Opened: 2014 — Capacity: 15,000
This is about as Wrigley Field as it gets outside of Wrigley itself. Sloan Park has identical dimensions, plenty of day games, a replica of the red Wrigley sign—and some of the most expensive tickets across the entire league. Despite being the largest venue in the Cactus League, the 2016 World Series did those ticket prices no favors. (They were pretty high even before then, as many wanted to check out the new venue.)
The park is located along Rio Salado Parkway; that road can take you to Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium about two miles to the west. The Tempe Marketplace is located between the two, and Chicago staple Portillo’s Hot Dogs opened there just prior to Sloan Park’s opening. Their dogs are far less expensive than the ballpark ones.
Mesa, AZ — Opened: 1997 — Capacity: 12,500
The Oakland A’s moved into this ballpark after the Cubs left it in 2013. The A’s former home, Phoenix Municipal Stadium, is now operated by Arizona State University’s baseball team. You will be hard-pressed to find signage inside this park that reads “Oakland”, as the A’s had begun discussions on moving out of the East Bay when they moved in for spring training.
(What a Moneyball move. Cubs leave, A’s move in.)
Hohokam Stadium is a mere four miles from Sloan Park. The A’s have one backfield that neighbors their stadium (like Scottsdale Stadium—the only other such venue); the rest of their backfields are located just a short walk south.
Tempe, AZ — Opened: 1969 — Capacity: 9,785
This is the oldest ballpark in the Cactus League, but it underwent extensive renovations in 2005. It opened in 1969 to host the San Diego Padres (and later the Mariners), and it features some interesting quirks to this day. There is minimal lawn seating beyond the outfield fence, the Angels’ bullpen is located behind the right field scoreboard, and the visiting bullpen is in play along the left field line. The Angels relish close proximity to their main stadium and backfields while being in a higher populated area, which often isn’t the norm for such expansive complexes.
Tempe Diablo Stadium is located west of Interstate 10, so it isn’t in the ‘Tempe’ that nearby Arizona State gives off. Parking is largely confined to the lots surrounding the ballpark itself due to a mountain behind left field, the backfields and the highway. It’s still pretty cool how the park is tucked in, and tickets here can be far less expensive than other ballparks in the East Valley.
As a general rule of thumb: tickets west of Phoenix are generally cheaper than the ones on the east. If you’re a Rockies fan on a budget, these are prime locations (aside from the occasional Dodger home game in Glendale, that is).
Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox (Arizona Fall League: Glendale Desert Dogs)
Glendale, AZ — Opened: 2009 — Capacity: 13,000
Camelback Ranch was designed by the same architecture company that designed Salt River Fields (HKS). The layout bears a similar resemblance, including backfields in close proximity, a respective ‘side’ for each team, and ample accessibility through stadium walkways.
The Dodgers take the third base dugout and left field bullpen, while the White Sox take first base and right field. There is a reserved ‘patio’ of sorts over the left field bullpen, so fans will have a tough time watching Clayton Kershaw’s warmup pitches up close without a special ticket. The right field bullpen is wide open for viewing from the outfield lawn, which allows for open viewing of Rockies arms if they are playing the Dodgers in a spring matchup.
In order for this venue to be built, a large plot of empty land was necessary. There isn’t much surrounding Camelback Ranch itself, but a short drive can take you by State Farm Stadium, home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, by Gila River Arena, home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, and by the nearby Westgate shopping district.
San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners (Arizona Fall League: Peoria Javelinas)
Peoria, AZ — Opened: 1994 — Capacity: 12,882
This venue is older than others, but a recent renovation enhanced many features. Bullpens are located by each foul pole like Camelback Ranch, and both can be easily accessed with a lawn ticket. The City of Peoria has certainly grown around the complex, so there is plenty in the immediate vicinity of the stadium and the 12 backfields. If fan attendance holds through in 2021, the new-look Padres reason for a hot ticket.
There is an In-N-Out burger conveniently located within walking distance of the stadium, for those of you disinterested by the lines in Aurora or Colorado Springs.
Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals (Arizona Fall League: Surprise Saguaros)
Surprise, AZ — Opened: 2003 — Capacity: 10,500
Surprise Stadium has a bullpen area with elevated viewing similar to Coors Field. The Royals take the left field bullpen and third base dugout, while the Rangers take the opposite. This venue has a classic feel and has held itself well despite a wave of newer spring ballparks being built; this park has often hosted the Arizona Fall League ‘Fall Stars’ game.
Surprise is well to the northeast of Phoenix, and it may seem like a remote drive while approaching the stadium. On the plus side: parking is free!
Maryvale, AZ — Opened: 1998 — Capacity: 7,000
This ballpark experience comes complete with the Brewers sausage race between innings and a full slate of Wisconsin-style sausages for sale. The recently-renamed American Family Fields underwent a sizable renovation in time for 2019 spring training, so it will appear far more modern than a 1998 debut would suggest.
Miller Park has been renamed American Family Field, so there is a chance the Brewers run into some confusion when talking about their regular season home and their similarly-named spring home.
Goodyear, AZ — Opened: 2009 — Capacity: 10,000
Cincinnati and Cleveland have to travel farther than any other MLB team to get to spring training. Goodyear often features some of the cheapest tickets in the Cactus League for that very reason; a trip from Ohio is a little tougher than a trip from Colorado.
Goodyear has both bullpens beyond the left field fence in a successive line, accessible for fans on the outfield lawn. This can make for some interesting pregame action if a marquee pitching matchup is going on, as you can see both arms up close at the same time. Backfields are located south of the stadium about a half-mile, separated only by parking and open fields.
The Goodyear Airport is right next to the ballpark, as well as the Goodyear aircraft boneyard. There isn’t much going on around the park other than that (but there is another In-N-Out on your way in from the east off Interstate 10 and Dysart Road, if you’re into that kind of thing).
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MLB spring training is set to start in a month; here’s what we know — and don’t know — about 2021 season
There aren’t many concrete provisions in place for the 2021 season, but here are a few key points to look for as the scheduled Opening Day gets closer. “Even this late in the offseason, teams are unsure what the upcoming season will look like, and what rules implemented last year will carry over or be discarded.”
It appears the Padres have not tapped out their resources, to the dismay of all NL West competitors that marvel at their spending since July. Joe Musgrove is leaving Pittsburgh for San Diego; the right-hander made eight starts for the Pirates last season and collected a World Series ring with the Astros in 2017.
The updated Padres starting rotation: Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Dinelson Lamet, Joe Musgrove, Chris Paddack. In 2022, Mike Clevinger (post-Tommy John) is set to join the mix.
Instead of lamenting the Padres’ signing, we can fixate some attention to great Rockies pitching performances, ranked by Thomas Harding just hours before the San Diego trade. Ubaldo Jimenez’s no-hitter is not the number one outing on this list.
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