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Swinging into Spring

Spring training in Phoenix area offers relaxed atmosphere for baseball fans

The Cactus League is made up of 15 MLB teams, including the Colorado Rockies, and they play at 10 different stadiums in and around the Phoenix area. Sam and Dru Wilson are avid baseball fans and have been going to spring training in Arizona for 10 years. “It’s a wonderful winter break to go someplace warm,” says Dru Wilson. “It’s an intimate and fun thing. We’ve gotten to know people who work at the ballparks and other vacationers that we look forward to seeing every year.”

She says while they go specifically for the Rockies, whose home stadium is the newly-built Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, AZ., it is also fun to visit the other fields and meet fans of other teams. “We all have something in common,” she says. “We all love baseball.”

Aaron Studebaker, director of sales and marketing for the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, says the fan experience is paramount to their success. “We allow fans to get up close and personal with players and coaches,” he says. “It’s a much looser environment for getting autographs and watching players practice.” And because everyone is vying for a job, fans will not only see the big names in baseball but the best up and coming prospects, too.

Spring training games begin near the end of February and continue through March. The weather in the Valley of the Sun at that time averages a pleasant 77 degrees for the high. All stadiums offer bleacher style seating with many fields also sporting grassy knolls and some shade. The dining experience at the games is every bit as authentic as attending a major league baseball game. Studebaker says hot dogs and hamburgers are the standard faire but they’ve mixed in some locally known restaurants to add to the fan experience. Beer and other adult beverages are also on the menu.

And while true baseball fans are going for the action in the diamond, there are numerous other attractions to break up the day. Most ball games are played in the afternoon so it’s very easy to get in a morning round of golf at one of the award-winning courses in the area before heading to the ballpark. Schedules also include evening games with a wide variety of restaurants and cuisines to experience before or after, along with plenty of entertainment options.

Tatum Luoma, director of public relations for the Scottsdale Visitor and Convention Bureau, says Scottsdale Stadium, home to the 2012 World Champion San Francisco Giants, is within a 10 to 15 minute walk from restaurants, shops and nightlife. “Scottsdale Stadium is right downtown,” she says. “And we offer a free trolley service so people can pour out of the ballpark and experience a great evening in Scottsdale without having to drive.”

Fans wanting to kick off the season in style should plan to be in Scottsdale February 23 and 24, 2013 when the Spring Training Festival will take place. The free event includes a variety of festivities and interactive activities as well as food and live music. Many Cactus League teams are represented so festivalgoers can purchase game tickets and merchandise there.

It’s no wonder spring training is a popular destination. Fans can get a head start on the baseball season in a relaxed and fun atmosphere while also enjoying the warm weather – and plenty of other attractions. “We can sit in our living room and watch the Rockies play at Coors Field and it’s probably more comfortable,” Dru Wilson says. “But with these smaller ballparks, you’re closer to the action, you get to see key players, get autographs and even pick up a few foul balls. And it’s a lot cheaper than going to Denver.”

The Cactus League teams include the Arizona Diamond Backs, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers.

The official Cactus League website is www.cactusleague.com. The website provides a trip planner including links to the various convention and visitor bureaus in the valley, official schedule for all 15 teams, stadium maps for all 10 fields in the area, ticket information and a history of the league.