“The region is altogether valueless. After entering it, there is nothing to do but leave.”
Lt. Edward Beale, Congress report on Arizona, 1858
While I don’t completely agree with the good lieutenant, I must say that I am glad to be home. You see, we weren’t intending on going to Spring training this year. My health is still a bit dodgy and being away from our home base is a bit scary right now. We aren’t habitual Spring Training junkies, but have been a few times and I’ve always had a good time. I had a lot of fun this time as well, but it was a little different from I had expected.
The impetus for even going down at all was the wedding of two of our closest friends, who happened to be from Phoenix. Which happened to be on my birthday. Which happened to be over the weekend of my birthday. When the universe clearly wants you to go Spring Training, you go!
For my birthday gift, my wife gave me her credit card and let me get tickets to all of the games I wanted to attend, which–after I restrained myself–wound up being 4 games. I found a Motel 6 close to both Sloan Park and the dialysis center that I would be utilizing twice during our short stay and booked our room.More details on that to follow.
That is far too long of a prologue, so lets just jump right into day 1.
We ended up leaving our house a bit later than intended, but other than one issue with CD selection (Yes children, old people still use physical media to listen to music) the drive was uneventful. Traffic was easy until we hit the outskirts of Phoenix, but we still made it to Scottsdale Stadium just a little bit after the Giants v. Puerto Rico game had begun. We immediately saw an issue. After driving around the ballpark and nearby environs there was literally no parking. All the lots were either full or blocked off with “Non Event Parking” sign. We even tried to find a place to park away from the ballpark and having a car service take us to the game with no avail. By this point it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten anything for many hours, so we cut our losses and changed our quest to find lunch.
Fortunately nearby was a restaurant serving Cornish pasties–as well as air conditioning, so we went in for a fine lunch topped off with an amazing banoffee pie and began to feel human again. at this point it was late enough to check in to our motel, so we headed in that general direction.
After a quick trip to the Walmart, which was decked out in Cubs merchandise, we arrived at our temporary home.
Do you ever get a strange feeling that things aren’t good and might soon get much worse? That was the feeling in my gut as we checked in. Don’t get me wrong, all the staff that we dealt with during our stay were perfectly nice. Very helpful and professional, even “upgrading” us to a handicapped room with no extra charge.
The room though? Not so good. The sort of place that you’d expect Norman Bates to work at, were “Psycho” set in 2017. Upon walking into our non-smoking room we were hit by a cloud of nicotine–something that persisted throughout our stay minus the one day when nicotine was swapped for pot smoke. There was a dirty boot print in our shower and the whole place looked like it had been cleaned by a disinterested teenager. Yes, I should have complained, but I was afraid any other room would be worse, so we soldiered on and kept the room.
Eventually we fell asleep and were not murdered in the night. I set those odds at 50-50.
Today was exciting because we were going to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I never get tired of saying that and love getting to refer to them as such) at Sloan Park, a ballpark I had yet to see since it opened only a few years ago. With Arizona ignoring Daylight Savings Time, I mentally thought that the game started at 12:05, the same as at home, so we arrived an hour sooner than expected. Oops. They soon opened the gates and we found our way inside and immediately grabbed some hot dogs, pretzels and water. We headed down to our seats and ate our lunch, fortunately, in some of the rare shade. The game against the Mariners was fun, not counting the final score, and it was good to see Bryant, Rizzo and the rest of the crew at it again, as well as see prospects like Eloy Jiminez in person.
Sloan Park is gorgeous and I do wish we had explored it a bit more, but the shady seats were too tempting to leave and so we remained sedentary for the length of the game. The timing worked out perfectly for us to enjoy the ballgame and get to my dialysis appointment in Mesa on time.
I did manage to get my photo with the Sloan Park marquee before we left though. I DO have my priorities after all.
After my 4 hours getting my blood cleaned we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to the motel of doom for the night. As you can no doubt tell, we are some late night party animals. Like the kids in the pool. Right outside of our room. Until after midnight.
Today we were headed to Tempe to see the Padres play the Angels. Looking back on it now, I don’t know why we didn’t just go and see the Cubs play the Mariners in Peoria, but seeing 2 of my favorite teams play each other was not a bad option either.
On the way we stopped for breakfast at a Whataburger, which I had never tried before. It had been described to me as “the Texas In ‘n Out” so I had to try it. Though it was breakfast time I felt the need to get the eponymous burger, but lo! On the breakfast menu was biscuits and gravy…one of my all time favorite meals. Decisions, decisions. In the end, although my appetite has been waning as of late, I ordered both. And finished them too.
While eating, a woman at a table across from us asked me about my cane and other, increasingly personal questions, which I answered, since I generally don’t know when to shut up. We finished our meals, ended the conversation and continued on to Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim…who train in Tempe, Arizona. Why not add a few more locations for the poor Angels?
Unfortunately unlike Sloan Park there were virtually no shaded seats at Tempe Diablo Stadium and I started to bake from the moment I sat in our seats watching the teams warm up. Kindly, Lauren went and got us a huge frozen margarita concoction to try to cool us down. Yes, I realize that alcohol probably has an adverse effect on remaining hydrated, but it was delicious. More importantly it was cold.
We downed that sucker fast enough that I didn’t even have time/ presence of mind to get a photo. The bottom of the drink vessel was actually molded into a baseball which Lauren wanted to keep, but was rebuffed by an usher as we left and forced to throw it away. We will never forget you, margarita baseball.
By the second inning the sun was beating down on my poor little body and we decided to leave the seats in favor of shade. It turns out that many people were doing the exact thing that we were and the mass of humanity clogged the concourse and made it extra hard just to walk around, let alone pop into the team store.
We decided that for the sake of my health (we still had a wedding reception and yet one more game to attend on our Arizona adventure) we should leave and go back to the air-conditioned motel room, to rest before dialysis.
I must have looked the way that I felt, because a kindly usher had me sit down for a moment and called to have a cart come to drive us over to our car. Unfortunately, once at the car we were blocked in by a fire truck parked directly behind us. We sat in the car for at least 20 minutes until a firefighter came back and moved the truck and in doing so, free our car.
We drove back to the motel where I had a short and cool nap. Our room hadn’t been cleaned yet, nor would it be that entire day.
I had my dialysis and then immediately began my backslide with dinner at The Cracker Barrel. We only recently got one in California and it’s a bit of a drive from our home–not that Phoenix isn’t–so on the rare occasion that we find one we are there!
We returned to our uncleaned room, got new towels from the front desk and looked forward to a long sleep in, since the following day was baseball-free.
I’ll try to keep this short since there is virtually no baseball connection. Today was my birthday, as well as the reception for our friends’ wedding. They had done a real wedding ceremony, very small, the day prior and then had their reception at a local barcade. For those unaware, a barcade is a combination bar and arcade, generally featuring older video games for those of us that grew up playing them.
There was lots of good food, good drinks, virtually unlimited free games and so a good time was had by all.
That evening, Lauren and I planned on going to a charity function to raise money for clean drinking water in the Dominican Republic and reportedly featuring many baseball players in attendance. Since I had been virtually shut out of autographs the whole trip, I thought this would be a fun way to celebrate my birthday. The universe had other plans and struck Lauren down with some sort of bug, so we got halfway to the venue and turned around to go back to the motel. We grabbed some Sonic for me and called it a night.
Today was our last day in Arizona and we were pumped to see the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs (I told you I loved saying it) take on the Oakland A’s at the Cubs old ballpark, Hohokam Stadium. I was primed and ready to go. Earlier I had visited the Walmart again and gotten all sorts of defense against the sun. Cooling towels, sunscreen and a big floppy hat were amongst the items purchased.
We took a little bit of time before going to the ballpark, which was very impressive to me. No, it isn’t as pretty or nicely designed like Sloan Park or Camelback, but it has a lot of charm and I would choose it ahead of the Brewers park in Maryvale or even Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The A’s have really made it their own, with history on display throughout the concourse. There was even some living history as Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, George Foster and Blue Moon Odom were on hand to greet fans and sign autographs for a small donation. The Cubs and the Fergie Jenkins Foundation do a similar thing at Sloan Park and I think opportunities like that are really a cool thing for fans.
I grabbed a basic hot dog, which was at least a foot long, and we got to our seats. Stamper the Elephant was cavorting around and playing with kids as we waited for the game to begin. Once again we really had no shade and I literally went through 2 bottles of water before the first pitch was thrown. I tried to tough it out, but the unjust kicked my butt, even with all of my sun gear in place.
We saw Jake Arrieta pitch a few innings, watched my boys hit and slowly made our way out of the park and began our long drive to my parents’ house in San Diego.
The one big benefit of driving to San Diego rather than Orange County is the fact that you travel by way of Yuma, Arizona, home of Chretin’s Mexican Restaurant. I’ve known about Chretin’s since I was a child. One of my pajama shirts in childhood was a Chretin’s t-shirt.
My dad used to fly for the Navy and there was a landing site in Yuma. Whenever they’d land there, they would head over to Chretin’s for magaritas and the famous Chretin’s “killer nachos.” It got to be a competition as to who could eat the most nachos, with the reigning champ getting his name painted on the wall. Sadly, the old building is no more, but the “killer nachos” live on in a new location.
Had we not stopped in, I think my family may have disowned us. The nachos were amazing and the margaritas were good, cold and cheap. We left perfectly content, even ordering a dozen nachos to-go for my family.
We got to my parents’ house safely and were thrilled to sleep in a bed that we knew had clean sheets.
Overall, it was a good time and I’d like to head down again next spring. I’ll need to find some defenses and new strategies to fight the sun and begin collecting my pennies so we can stay in a place a slight bit better than the Mesa Motel 6. Next year I’d like to get out to the back fields to check out the minor league guys and maybe check out some “B” games as well.
I’m already looking forward to it!
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
Full set of edited photos is found here!
4 o’clock comes far too early in the morning for my liking, but, as we had an early flight to Phoenix, that was the time my alarm went off on our last morning in Denver. We got ready, packed any last minute things we needed for the morning and made our way downstairs to the hotel lobby to wait for the airport shuttle.
Being so early, I completely expected it to only be Lauren and I waiting. I was wrong. There were a good 10-15 people loitering around the lobby, so when the shuttle pulled up, we hopped first in line to grab our seats. Except the shuttle was already full, for the most part. Lauren was able to grab a seat and I wound up standing next to her for the duration of the drive. With no handrails or hanging straps or anything. It was an interesting adventure, but we survived and hopped into the obscenely long line at security.
Seriously, it wasn’t even 5:30 in the morning yet, why were all these people awake? We eventually made it through and rode the subway train to our gate. We were sitting, waiting for the plane as the sunrise began and if nothing else, Denver sure knows how to do a nice sunrise.
The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Phoenix on time, if not a bit early, so we called and the hotel shuttle came and picked us up. Fortunately, this time it was just us so we got to sit. We chatted with the driver on the brief ride to the hotel and he told us that Chase Field would be around “7 long blocks” from the hotel. This threw a bit of a wrench in our plans since we were planning to walk each day, but 7 long blocks in 100+ degree heat made us question things a bit. The driver was nice enough to suggest that at game time we get in touch with the front desk and if the shuttles weren’t in use, they could drop us off, which I thought was nice.
It was still very early in the morning when we reached the hotel, so we expected the room wouldn’t be ready and we would drop off the bags and go and grab breakfast somewhere. We lucked out and were able to check in immediately. We debated still going to breakfast but nothing struck us as particularly excited so we opted to nap instead. It was a good option.
After we awoke, we realized the day was getting away from us, and if we wanted to get to Chase for batting practice, we should probably scope out the area and get a bite to eat. Both of our smartphones suggested that the stadium was a lot closer than we had been lead to believe and as we left the hotel, we could see it immediately. It wound up being, at most, a 10 minute walk.
Knowing that made a detour for food a lot more relaxing, since we didn’t have to worry about how to make a long trek from wherever we ate back to the hotel to try and convince them to let us use a shuttle, which might not have even been possible.
We decided to eat at a Mexican-Native American restaurant called the Canyon Cafe. When we first approached it, we were somewhat concerned due to the lack of customers and mixed reviews on Yelp!, but it was hot and we were hungry, so in we went. I was immediately greeted by a couple of Cub fans and we chatted a bit as we waited for our table to be ready.
When we were seated, we were given a basket of the best tortilla chips that I have ever eaten. They were dusted with some sort of spice blend and they were incredible. I think we went through at least 2.5 baskets full.
The entrees were amazing as well, and I had my first taste of green chile. Not as scary as I had previously assumed. Lauren loved her entree as well, and our bunuelo/ice cream dessert had us essentially licking the plate. In addition, with the bill, they brought out 2 white chocolate tamales, compliments of the chef. It was a very good thing.
After we paid, we rolled ourselves a few blocks and wound up at Chase Field. From the outside, there’s not a whole lot to see. Not a lot of unique character or charm. It just looks like a big concrete slab, so I felt a bit disappointed as we joined the long line of Cub fans waiting to get in.
As we were passing through bag check, the usher looked in my bag and saw that it was all camera equipment. He looked at it, looked up at me and said, “Make sure you record lots of memories, and get in a few yourself!” It was the most charming response I have ever gotten to my photography.
Once we got in, and were hit with that glorious air-conditioning, I rushed us down near the Cub dugout to seek out baseballs and autographs. Sadly, I came up empty again. When I came to our seats in the left field bleachers, Lauren was staring up behind home plate and told me that she wanted to go up there. I said sure, as we wanted to explore the whole park, but put it out of my mind as the game started.
We were positioned right behind Alfonso Soriano and the fans were just being moronic towards him. They would shout until he turned around and then mocked him for looking. He still made every defensive play that came to him and was never caught flatfooted, but the fans would laugh like drunken hyenas every time he turned around. It got pretty old by the end of the game.
That being said, I enjoyed the bleachers. Again, I felt a lot closer to the action than in Anaheim or San Diego, even more than in Colorado.
Around 3 innings in or so Lauren decided that she was going on her trek to the uppermost part of the stadium. I opted to stay behind and watch the game. Chris Rusin was pitching a great game and the offense was not quite as anemic as it had been going into the game.
I should also note that the reason that the reason that Rusin was starting the game was because one of my favorite Cubs, Matt Garza had finally been traded earlier in the day to the Texas Rangers. I knew it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Garza would be gone before the trade deadline, but it was still upsetting. I was following all the drama earlier in the day back at the hotel and I wonder what the neighboring rooms thought as there was a fit of yelling and profanity in the middle of the afternoon as the trade was announced.
Lauren made her way back to me, and I learned that it was a good thing that I didn’t attempt the trek. While she enjoyed it, it was unlikely I would have made the trip without a tank of oxygen and a sherpa. It’s ok–that’s why we have cellphone photos.
After another inning or so, I decided that I wanted to wander a bit too, so we made our way around the concourse checking out various standing room only areas to watch the game. That’s another thing that both Colorado and Phoenix had in abundance but I had not ever noticed in any of the California parks, the standing room only sections. I don’t know if it had to do with earthquake laws or building codes or what, but I liked them.
Lauren grabbed a Jack Daniels lemonade beverage and we were mere feet away from Junior Lake’s first home run. Just a slight difference in velocity or location and I might have been able to get on the field for batting practice and a meet and greet the next day!
We eventually found our way back to the seats after a few mishaps in misjudging their location. We found our way back eventually and watched Kevin Gregg finish up the first Cub win of the trip. Once again, we had an usher try to take some photos of us with the field. Not quite as bad as the poor man at Coors, but you’d think these guys were never asked to take photos!
We slowly made our way out toward our hotel in the stifling heat, passing a British pub along the way that we vowed to visit the following evening, and in just a few minutes we were in the blessed air conditioning, relaxing and getting ready for the next day.