/ The Phoenix Traveler
Phoenix — By Heather Wright Schlichting on January 13, 2010 at 6:23 am
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Have a Spring Fling … at Spring Training in Arizona

There’s nothing like playing hooky on a work day.  Sitting in the afternoon sun with a cold drink watching your team play and knowing that you’re doing it on the sly; it really doesn’t get any better than that.  Equally exciting is an entire getaway devoted to all things baseball.  No matter if you’re a local or an out-of-town guest, each spring, Arizona transforms into a baseball haven.

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Cubs’ fans, Mariners’ fanatics and diehard Giants’ fans, to name a few all converge on the cities in and around Phoenix and Tucson for 30 great days.  Opening day on Wednesday, March 3 will feature the Giants against the Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona.

Known as the Cactus League, Arizona hosts Spring Training games for nine teams in the Phoenix metropolitan area and three additional teams in Tucson.  Here’s a distance chart to gauge where your favorite team plays.

Where and When it All Began
Spring training is almost as old as baseball itself. The best evidence points to it beginning in 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings held baseball camps in New Orleans. Some may argue that the Washington Capitals of the National League pioneered spring training in 1888.

spring_coverHow it originated really doesn’t matter.  By 1900, spring-training was firmly established as a baseball ritual, with many teams heading out of town so players could practice and managers could evaluate.

In Arizona, professional baseball has had a presence since the early 1900’s when minor league teams frequently came to play exhibition games. Not until 1946, however, did the Cactus League first take shape. It began with Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck who brought his team to Arizona and convinced New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham to do the same. In 1951, the Chicago Cubs came to Phoenix and the Baltimore Orioles in Yuma in 1954, officially dubbing the spring circuit “The Cactus League.”

In the late 1980s new parks including Tucson Electric Park in Tucson became home for the Chicago White Sox then in later years the Arizona Diamondbacks.  More teams just kept on coming and in 2003, the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers opened a brand new facility in Surprise.

Tickets Go Fast
Don’t let the atmosphere fool you, the games may be more casual than regular season events, but you need to plan properly so you don’t get shut out. Tickets to the more popular teams such as the Cubs, often sell out in advance. Here is the schedule for all of the teams that play in Arizona.

spring3From this online schedule, simply click on the abbreviation of your desired team and you will learn about the stadium that they play at, the cost of their tickets, address and directions.  Even more information fully acquaints you with the history of the team’s Spring Training and more specifics about the amenities at the park.

For a complete list of all the Arizona parks, you may also find this site helpful.  It highlights all the available parks where the games are played.  If you’re a Cub fan like me and know that you either won’t be able to get tickets or would rather avoid the crowds then this page on the main Cactus League web site will give you a better idea of the amenities at each park and the teams that they host. 

Because I’m not too picky about the teams that I see, I’m more partial to the newer stadiums like Surprise Stadium (map) home to Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, Glendale Stadium (map) and the Peoria Sports Complex (map).  If you’re not particular either, I suggest you look at the descriptions of each stadium in depth to determine if the amenities and the atmosphere are what you’re looking for.

It’s important to note that if you’re on a budget, some stadiums offer lawn seating at lesser prices.  It’s actually a great option for families with small children.  The kids have more room to move around and play and the adults can find the experience more relaxing.  Also, remember that this time of year brings our best weather with plenty of sun and warm, pleasant temperatures.  Sitting on the lawn guarantees that you will be in the sun throughout the duration of the game.  Just make sure you bring your sunscreen!

Once you’ve checked out the pairings, parks and dates and times, I suggest you order your tickets online right away.  Visit Ballpark Digest. The site has a venue map to view the seats available for purchase and in some instances offers price discounts.

If you want to throw caution to the wind, you can always look up games the day of to see if seats are available and reserve them with Will Call.

spring_palmsPlay Ball!
If you’re interested in taking a break from the winter blahs, plan a vacation around Spring Training with this easy-to-use Trip Planner.  It allows you to map out all the different stadiums if you’re interested in seeing several different teams and provides links to the local visitor bureaus to help with hotel arrangements.

I think you’ll realize once you visit these web sites that there are many options for all types of baseball fans.  What better way to get up close to your favorite players and enjoy America’s favorite pastime.  Even before the game you can get players autographs, kids can run the bases after the game and if you’re really a fan, stop by for their morning practices.  Each park offers a variety of discounts for families, military, college students and each game highlights a promotion to serve each type of fan.  They’ve got kids day, dog day and a blood drive day where if you donate blood you get a free lawn seat.  They really want your business and will do anything to get it!  And why not, I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Spring Training Parks
Complete listing of each park
Map of all the parks

Spring Training Schedule

Purchase Tickets Online

Photos courtesy of flickr:
Cubs at Angels
M’s vs. Royal’s
Cubs at Angels 3-26-07
M’s vs. Royal’s 3-24-07

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