Nine years ago my grown son dragged me to Phoenix for a weekend spring training visit. I’m a lifelong fan of the Dodgers, but had never done the “spring thing.” However, after one visit, I was hooked. I’ve gone every year since and feel fortunate that my son and his friends seem happy to include me at their annual gathering. The following may include details that you couldn’t care less about, but I’m including them for the benefit of those who have never been and who might be thinking of making the trip one day.
A few points to consider when planning your trip:
- For a number of years, we used to just grab hotel rooms at the last minute based on whatever was available, but that often led to long commutes in order to get from our hotel to Camelback Ranch. Three years ago, we settled on Staybridge Suites in Glendale which is about 10-15 minutes from the ballpark. For those who have never been to Phoenix, it’s worth noting that it seems to take a long while to get anywhere. Not sure if it’s bad traffic patterns or what, but even though all the Cactus League teams who train there are in greater Phoenix, it could take 45 minutes to an hour to reach any particular ballpark, depending upon where you’re staying and the time of day.
- Weather—This year was the exception to the rule as we had gorgeous blue skies and 68-70 degree weather for the whole weekend, but the normal situation is high 80’s to mid 90’s at this time of year so you want to plan on getting seats in the shade if at all possible. For whatever reason, most of the Arizona parks (including Camelback) have more sun seats than shade.
- Eats—Our hotel offers a free full breakfast and has a mini kitchen with microwave, so our first stop after getting in is Costco, where we load up on snacks and beverages to last the weekend. Phoenix has a wide selection of restaurants so you can pretty much get any food type which makes you happy, as long as you’re willing to travel a little bit to get there. Our group always treats ourselves to one upscale dinner at a steak house each visit and the choices are many. It seems like Phoenix has more steak houses per capita than any city in the country. If you want to stay less formal, you’ll have your pick of hamburger joints, Mexican and pretty much any other food type and price range you can think of. For the past few years, we’ve been getting to three games while in town and that was true of this visit as well. We weren’t able to schedule a Dodger game on Friday so took in the Mariners vs. Rangers game at Surprise.
On Saturday, we had our day at Camelback for the Dodgers vs. White Sox game. If it’s your first time at the complex be sure to arrive early so you can walk around. If you go to the back fields you can see the minor leaguers working out and get a look at some guys whose names you’ve heard about as prospects to watch out for. You can literally walk past the players as they move from one field to another and there is a path from one of the fields to the main stadium where the players (including the big shots like Kershaw, Turner, etc. will stop and sign autographs. Those of you who have been to Camelback know what I’m talking about when I say there is a special feeling there that you won’t ever forget. Part of it, I’m sure, is the fact that we’ve gone a while without games and spring training means that the season is just around the corner, but there is a certain informality and vibe about Camelback that just has to be experienced and really can’t be put into words.
On Sunday, we went to Maryvale (home of the Brewers) to see the Dodgers. Maryvale seating capacity is about half that of Camelback Ranch, but it’s a really nice place to see a game. On top of everything else, when you see a game there, you get to experience the Sausage Race, something no baseball fan would ever want to do without. We had seats directly behind the plate about 15 rows up and they ran about $30 each.
Player notes—We were hoping to see some of the hot shot prospects, but unfortunately missed most of them. We did see Matt Kemp, who looked like he definitely belongs on the team. All of the things which had been written about him seemed true in person. Looked to be in great shape, looked good in the batters box, and didn’t embarrass himself in the outfield.
Saw Pedro Baez pitch an inning and he certainly didn’t impress me, although Roberts had positive comments after the game. Either Doc is trying to keep Pedro positive or they’ve decided to keep him on the Opening Day Roster no matter how badly he pitches.
J.T. Chargois pitched a nice inning and I’m ready to have him take Pedro’s spot on the roster. Of course, Andrew Friedman doesn’t know I exist, so that isn’t a done deal yet.
Kenley pitched an inning, and, he was, well, he was Kenley—ready for the season. Saw Rios start at first base—that dude can really hit a baseball but I can’t see how he ever cracks the Dodger lineup. Not all that great in the field so, just like Willie Calhoun, I’m guessing he’ll make some AL team happy at some point in the future.
Yasmani Grandal looks like he’s ready for the season and since Austin Barnes is having a pretty awful spring, he may very well get a fair amount of playing time until he goes into one of his annual horrendous slumps. I’m a bit concerned about Barnes’ throwing. Not sure if it’s the elbow acting up or if he just hasn’t rounded into throwing shape yet. Kyle Farmer looks terrific. I’d really like to see him get a shot. Last but not least, our man Andrew Toles looks sensational. No way anyone could tell he was seriously injured last year. Hitting and running as well as he ever did.
Already looking forward to Spring Training 2019. Hope to see some of you there.