If you haven’t been to Spring Training before, there are a lot of questions you’re bound to have, and it doesn’t matter how old you are if you’re going this year or next year for the first time, it’s just that you go. Baseball fans absolutely must, must, go to Spring Training at least once in their lifetime. It’s also a good idea to read what other people recommend, and not just what I write. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs wrote something in January, and friend Carmen Kiew from Bay Area Sports Guy also put out something about what she’s experienced. My recommendations will go from planning stages to leaving stages when it comes to experiencing Spring Training in Arizona. I’m not going to pretend to know how to do it Florida.
The earlier you trip, the less people you’ll hit
Most people will likely be unable to make a week-long trip out of Spring Training, and the crowds will be larger on the weekends, not that that is big news to you. I wish I had some attendance figures I could cite to prove it, but more people start showing up to Spring Training as it wears on. As you can guess, the less people in the area, the more you can seat-hop like I did, you’ll probably have a better chance at autographs, and I’m guessing the hotel rates will be friendlier.
There are many places where you can stay-ces
I’ve stayed north of the 101 loop, near the Phoenix Airport, and in Chandler, which is a suburb southeast of the loop, and pretty likely a very underrated choice of lodging location for people. I try to get Marriott points, so that’s the chain I’ll try to stay with. However, staying all over the place has been great because in the first place, we stayed somewhere really nice, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do nearby. It was nice to be a little secluded though. The Phoenix Airport Crowne Plaza hotel we stayed at was not that great, but we were close to all the stadiums. The last place we stayed at in Chandler was across the street from a couple shopping centers not included the gigantic Chandler Fashion Center, and that doesn’t include the other shopping center on the other side of the freeway 3 minutes away. My wife, someone that loves to shop, could not have been happier, and her happiness gave me happiness. I’m not sure if we’ll stay in Chandler next year, but I know it’s a place that’s left a mark on us.
Finding places to stay online can be difficult, I have found Kayak, Hotels.com, and Hotwire to be helpful to a point. If you’re going to stay in Arizona for a loooooong time, I follow people on Twitter that use vrbo.com and are plenty happy with that. Retailmenot can also be useful!
Buying tickets for games
I haven’t found a better avenue to buy tickets for Spring Training games than going through the team’s sites themselves. I recommend using some sort of satellite maps system to give you an idea of where certain seats are. If you’re looking to get a tan, get some lawn seats. If you want to keep cool, find where the covered seats are. Don’t know where the covered seats are? Call the box office!
Extra credit: Go to Salt River Fields at the Talking Stick Resort for a game. Easily the best field Spring Training can offer you.
What to pack, what to pack
Unless the weather gods plan on trolling you by snowing, it’s probably going to be warm to hot. I cannot emphasize enough that you have sunscreen and fluids ready to go, and if your state’s sales taxes are like California’s and you have time to shop in Arizona, go shopping for those materials in AZ before you go to the games. That sun is brutal, even if you plan on walking around outside. You can bring sealed water bottles into the games, and that saved money can add up.
If you know you will be meeting up with friends/going out with friends, for goodness sakes bring more formal attire. My wife and I did not, and missed a really great opportunity to meet some really good people, and if you love to network like I do, you know that missing out on something like that turns into a lesson that will never leave you.
What will you eat?
Whatever Keith Law tells you to eat, that’s what. I went to the Four Peaks Brewery by the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, and I had a beer sampler, and it was wonderful:
I also had an excellent French Dip there, and the environment was great. If you’ve read the other two articles, you’ll notice the other two authors have recommended what Law does, so even if you’re skeptical and favor Yelp! or something else more, give it a try.
When should you call it a trip?
That really depends on how you’re getting to where you’re going. If you’re driving out of Arizona, the earlier the better, in my opinion. Understand where the stadium you’re at is in relation to other stadiums, which is why we left an hour before all the other games were supposed to end in the area. Only an accident on the road was going to slow us down. If you’re flying out of Arizona, Iiiiiiiii have no idea when you should leave, because I’ve only picked up my wife from there once, and I don’t even remember it, probably because I was too busy thinking of how I was going to propose to her the next day.
Part of life is about experiences, and you want to remember those experiences (I mean unless you don’t want anybody to find out about those experiences, but I digress). Take pictures of where you go, what you eat, the ballplayers and team members you idolize, where you stay, and you/yourselves having a good time. Spring Training is not a time when the games are serious, so why should you be overly serious while you’re in Arizona? Relax, have a good time, chronicle what you do, and be smart and safe. I just can’t tell you enough how much I love Spring Training, so I hope you found this useful as you prepare for your first/next trip to Spring Training.