My Vacation: Trek to Arizona for Spring Training
I've been a baseball fan since I was 7, when my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates beat the hated New York Yankees with a dramatic home run in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. Yes, for those of you keeping score at home, that was way back in 1960.
Now that I live in Southern California, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are my home team. Attending spring training games in Arizona is one of the highlights of the year for my husband and me, as it is for many baseball fans and snowbirds from as far away as Minnesota and Canada.
We recently made the pilgrimage to Tempe, Ariz., to watch a few Angels games. Here's a report:
Best moment: Watching new Angel Albert Pujols, a longtime superstar for the St. Louis Cardinals, at the plate. In the game we saw, against the Cincinnati Reds, Pujols went 0-for-3, but the day before he'd hit two home runs. One of the best things about spring training is the intimacy of the stadiums. Tempe Diablo Stadium, where the Angels play, seats about 9,600 people, so even the worst seats give you a better view than you're likely to have at a major-league ballpark. This year, we scored seats in the fourth row behind home plate. It was exciting to sit so close to the guys in red, and to have Angels ace Jered Weaver (right) throwing right at us. I was grateful for the heavy netting behind the batter, which kept us from having to dodge speeding foul balls.
Best tip: Many fans spend the hours before an afternoon game at the practice fields, where you can get a close look at the players working out and warming up. We didn't do that this year, but friends who did spotted manager Mike Scioscia's son, Matt, a catcher and late-round draft pick, getting detailed instruction on footwork. Autographs are much easier to obtain during the pregame sessions.
Best meal: Ballpark food is notoriously overpriced and under-nutritious, but we consumed our share of brats, dogs and beer. Our best meal during our stay, though, was at an upscale foodie restaurant in nearby Phoenix called noca (North of Camelback), where a chef's tasting menu included scrumptious shrimp-and-grits and vanilla-whiskey bread pudding for dessert.
If you go: Spring training games begin in March and run through the first few days of April. Half the major-league teams hold spring training in the Phoenix area, while the rest train in Florida. You can get tickets to watch your favorite team, or you can visit several ballparks and watch different teams in action. The western Cactus League stadiums are all within easy driving distance of Phoenix. In Florida, the Grapefruit League complexes are spread out around the state, but it's easy to build a trip around a few different teams.
Once a casual, laid-back affair, spring training has become big business, with teams building expansive new complexes and surrounding towns offering amenities to cater to an influx of visitors. When you're not watching baseball, there's golf, tennis, swimming and shopping, all adding up to a real end-of-winter vacation getaway.
Lynne Domash is an editor at SecondAct.com.
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