“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!
I have been spoiled with the offseason offerings of my favorite baseball team. For as long as I’ve been aware, the Cubs have held the Cubs Convention in the middle of January in the frozen tundra of Chicago, providing a jolt of baseball excitement for the longest suffering fans in sports. The convention has always sold out, but I have been able to attend three times and the reminder that spring training is right around the corner is always welcome.
Within the past few years I have heard about several other teams hosting pre-season fan get-togethers, including the Padres. Reports the past few years have been that the FanFest was a professionally run and much enjoyed event, so I made a point to keep my eyes out for any information about the 2014 event.
Fortunately it fell on a weekend that I was able to get away and, after acquiring “early entry” passes from a friend of a friend, my brother, Chris, and I were standing in line outside of Petco Park far too early on a Saturday morning.
Having never been before, I wasn’t sure how the autograph sessions worked. All I knew was that there were vouchers for the various sessions and that you needed a voucher to get the autograph. I misunderstood what I was told by a Padres employee and thought that the earliest sessions would be available to the early entry guests and tickets for the others would be staggered throughout the day.
Chris and I grabbed our vouchers for the Yonder Alonso/Robbie Erlin session and headed over to the Padres Garage Sale. The sale is where the Padres sell all sorts of things left over from the previous season(s), including jerseys, bats, caps, and banners that hung around the ballpark.
There was a sizable crowd when we got there, but it wasn’t unmanageable and we managed to peruse all of the items without any issues. While flipping through the jerseys I happened across a 1984 Padres “throwback” jersey that had been worn and signed by Anthony Rizzo and I was sold immediately. The funny thing is that I had thought just that morning that had I gone to the FanFest the year prior, I could maybe have grabbed a Rizzo jersey since he had been with the club sporadically throughout the 2011 season.
I wound up spending a little more than I had planned to acquire the jersey, but it is now one of the prize pieces of my baseball memorabilia collection, and well worth the expense in my mind.
After finally checking out, which took a very long time due to Wi-Fi issues with the credit card readers, Chris and I looked at the time and saw that we still had over an hour before we could even start queueing up for our autograph session, so we decided to enjoy a walking tour of the Padres clubhouse and facilities.
I had already seen the clubhouse on my tour of Petco nearly a year before, but it was a good way to kill time and there were various areas open that had not been accessible on our tour. Plus, it’s always fun to see the “behind the scenes” areas of the ballpark.
After the clubhouse, we popped out into the Padres dugout and relaxed for a few minutes as we decided what to do next.
There were several tents set up in the outfield grass, so we decided to see what was happening out there. Sidenote:One of the benefits to going to a fan event for a team that plays in a warm climate is the ability to walk on the field, a perk that is not offered on any ballpark tour that I have experienced, or even read about.
While on our way out to left field, we ran into the Friar and had to get a photo with him. The tents seemed to be for local radio stations and all of the lines to reach them were quite prohibitive, so I leapt at the outfield walls a few times, like I was robbing a home run, completely disregarding the fact that I have no jumping skills whatsoever, and decided to head up to the Alonso/Erlin signing.
The best part about having the voucher for the session was that the queue was basically just sitting in the nice shaded seats and waiting for the players to show up. They arrived on time and were fairly quick with the signings, even though they were both very good about talking with the fans who came up.
I had Alonso sign a ball for me, but unfortunately I wasn’t paying close enough attention and he signed in blue sharpie before I could ask him to use my own pen. I told him that I thought this could definitely be an All Star year for him and he thanked me and said that he was feeling really good this offseason.
I had decided not to get Erlin on a baseball, so I didn’t have him sign anything, which I regret in retrospect.
At this point Chris and I headed back to where the vouchers had been distributed to try and get some for a later autograph session. As it happened, the vouchers were not staggered throughout the day, they were given out as soon as the previous session had run out of vouchers. So, rather than waiting until 10:00am to give our the 11:30am vouchers, they were given as soon as the 11:00am session had “booked out.”
The system makes sense and I don’t have a real issue with it, though I wish that there had been better communication with the fans and more of a premium given to the early entry (read:season ticket holders) attendees. For example, two of the more desired autograph sessions were Jedd Gyorko and Andrew Cashner, both of whom only had one autograph session in the late afternoon. I would have hoped that the Padres would have had them available early, as a premium for the early entry folks.
While bummed, Chris and I weren’t devastated, as we were trying to make it to USD for the USD alumni game featuring Cubs top prospect, Kris Bryant, and after getting out and throwing a few pitches in the Padres bullpen, that was just where we went.
After finally finding parking on campus, we made our way to Fowler Park, the brand new USD baseball facility. To say that it is a gem is to sell it short. This tiny, college ballpark is nicer than some major league spring training facilities that I have visited. (Maryvale, I’m looking at you!) and if I were a student, I think I would be wiling away far too many hours not studying, sitting in the grandstand.
When we arrived, Bryant had already been officially presented with his Golden Spikes Award, for the best college baseball player, and the game was in the bottom of the first inning. After sitting down I noticed a crowd of people in the stands by the third base bullpen not watching the game.
I made my way over, and sure enough, there was Kris Bryant, signing autographs for anybody who wanted one. I had him sign a ball for me and inscribe it “Go Cubs!” which he did with no hesitation. Bryant didn’t play in the game, presumably as part of the contract he signed with the Cubs, but there were a lot of other alumni who did, including Orioles starter, Brian Matusz.
One of the highlights for me was hearing the guys on both the current USD team and the alumni giving each other a hard time and I found myself cracking up after several exchanges.
As the game drew to a close, we made out way to the first base dugout where the alumni team was situated. In addition to Bryant, another Cubs prospect, Corey Black was there throwing a bullpen session and I was hoping to have him sign a ball for me as well, a goal which sadly ended in failure.
After the game I stood by the dugout with several other fans, hoping to grab a few more autographs. As Matusz walked into the dugout, two kids next to me asked him if he’d sign. He said, sure, with a big smile. The kids then asked him for a ball since they “didn’t have anything for [him].” Matusz then said he didn’t have one and disappeared into the dugout, ruining it for the rest of us.
While standing there, I heard rumblings about going to wait for Bryant by the clubhouse door after the game and thanks to my patient brothers, we were able to meet him again and get a photo. My brother, Jonathan, also had him sign a ball with a “Team USA” inscription.
All in all it was a fantastic weekend to welcome back baseball and a great boon to my Cub collection, despite both events being held in San Diego. Not long now and spring training games will start and then the regular season will be upon us. I can’t wait, as I have big plans this year!
Thanks for reading, and keep tripping baseballs!
Extended road trips notwithstanding, I always do a small trip from my home in Orange County to see the Cubs when they visit my home town of San Diego (and usually add in a Dodger Stadium trip too, but that will come later). This year was no exception.
With one of my brothers having partial season tickets to the Padres, and another having connections to a full season ticket package, attending the 3 Cub games in late August was not an issue in the slightest.
Game one was a Friday night affair and my date for the night was my brother, Chris. We had seats on the third base side in the second level, which were great. We also got hot/cold grocery bags styled after one of the Padres uniforms, and wound up with Trevor Hoffman. I was more than ok with that. Thus ends my satisfaction with the evening.
All started well. We got a great parking spot and were early enough to do a loop of the ballpark, seeking out food. I wound up getting a pulled pork sandwich from Randy Jones’ Barbecue, which was pretty tasty, if a little messy. The Cubs were in a bit of a slump, but I had full faith that they would turn it around against the Padres, despite their historically abysmal performance against the National League West. It ended up being firework night at the park, but the only fireworks I saw were the ones that took place on the field.
The game started and the Cubs were off like gangbusters. They scored 6 runs in the top of the first and drove Padres starter Edinson Volquez from the game after only 2/3 of an inning. This was great. This was exciting. This was…not to last.
Edwin Jackson was the starter for the Cubs and he started strong as well, only giving up 1 hit in the first 3 innings. Then the Cubs remembered that they were the Cubs and Edwin Jackson succumbed to the sub-mediocrity that was the hallmark of his first season with the Cubs. He allowed a 3-run home run to Jedd Gyorko in the 4th, a 2-run triple to Will Venable in the 5th and an RBI triple to Logan Forsythe in the 6th and any advantage the Cubs had from crushing Volquez was gone. It didn’t help that they had been unable to solve the parade of relievers that followed, literally being shut out for the entire game following the first 2/3 of an inning.
The bullpen was it’s usual reliable self as James Russell gave up a home run to Venable and Blake Parker allowed Gyorko to hit his 2nd of the night.
And that, as they say, was all she wrote.
The next day, my other brother, Matt had tickets so he, Chris and I went and sat on the first base side, on the field level. After we sat down, the seats in front of us were taken by some individuals that not only looked like they didn’t belong there, but acted like it as well. Therefore I was not surprised when the seats real owners came and claimed their rightful seats. What was funny was the reaction. The family never looked at the people, didn’t say a word and just shuffled off.
I’ve been known to poach my share of seats in my time, but on the occasions where I get caught, I apologize and try to make up some excuse so I look like a decent person. Nope. Not these folks. It was just such a bold move. I was disgusted, but at the same time, somewhat impressed.
The Cubs fared far better in this game than the one prior, and Jeff Samardzija pitched 8 strong innings and Darwin Barney had a home run and a double accounting for 2 of the Cubs 3 runs. In addition, we were treated to a beautiful San Diego sunset. Somehow the sunsets are always prettier and the hot dogs always taste better when your team is winning.
I was supposed to go to the Sunday matinee finale game, but wasn’t feeling great, so I stayed home and let 2 of my other siblings go, which was probably a good decision, as the game was a long extra innings affair and I had to return north to the OC and there is nothing I like less than leaving a game early, especially when it is close like that.
The Cubs ended up losing in extras, and continuing their NL West curse, only going 1-2 at Petco Park.
Would the trend continue as the Cubs headed up the I-5 to Dodger Stadium? (Hint: yes, it absolutely would)
I wasn’t intending to attend my first baseball game until the 22nd of this month, to see the Angels take on the Rangers, but I got a call from my brother on Monday night offering me an extra ticket to the Padres home opener. After moving a few things around, I was able to take him up on his offer.
My fiancee, Lauren drove me from Orange County down to San Diego, picking up my brother from work as well, and dropping us at the ballpark. My parents were also attending the game so we had a ride after the game, and Lauren wouldn’t get stuck downtown while we watched the game.
The Padres offered two tours daily during the off-season and my fiancee, Lauren, and I opted for the later tour, to allow for sleeping in and any sort of hijinks on the approximately 30 minute drive from my parent’s house to the ballpark.
Despite some shenanigans involving a questionable “public parking” garage we made it to the ticket window in front of the stadium just in time to buy our two tickets and officially join the tour. Our group consisted of Lauren, me and another young couple who were pleasant enough and, like us, photography nerds, so we didn’t feel too bad “holding up” the tour for pictures.
We began by touring the always exciting stadium bowels, including a look at Padres jail for people who would have a date with the San Diego PD in their immediate future. Then we got to the meat of the tour and entered the visitor’s clubhouse. Evidently the home clubhouse was only available to the public on one day a year during the team’s annual Fanfest, which had occurred a few weeks prior. I guess the reason for this was because the players with longer-term contracts with the club would actually leave their personal things in their lockers and apparently rifling through Chase Headley’s wallet was frowned upon. Party poopers.
The visiting clubhouse was very cool though. Our tour guide made a point of emphasizing how the Padre’s home team facilities were so much nicer than those offered to the visitors, which I’m sure is true, but it was a bit odd to be focusing so much on that particular aspect of the home team dynamic.
It really is quite a moment when you step out of a dark tunnel and are blinded by the sun, only to see a beautiful expanse of grass and base paths in front of you. We weren’t allowed to step on the actual grass itself, but were allowed along the dirt perimeter on our way to the home dugout. It was cool getting to be that close to home plate and see essentially what the batter/catcher/umpire/ball boy get to see.
As the tour was going on, the guide was not only showing us various elements of the ballpark, but was also giving us the history of the Padres as well as baseball in San Diego. She was very knowledgeable, and it’s nice to see the Padres either have an excellent training program or hire people who know their stuff, rather than just giving a disinterested teenager a binder of facts to lead the tour.
One aspect of the dugouts that I thought was kind of fun was the fact that the players essentially never sit on the lower part of the bench, as the many spike marks all over the seats bare witness. We grabbed our last few pictures of ourselves on the field and headed out the tunnel to the luxury seats.
After seeing how the Padres elite experience baseball we were taken to another domain inaccessible to the common fan, the press box. As I have always wanted to be a sportswriter, this was right up my alley. The box itself was fairly boilerplate, though we did learn that as a writer you are given free hotdogs and basic ballpark food, but for a nominal fee you could be eating the same food as the big shots down in the luxury seats. Not too bad of a deal, if you ask me!
The tour was winding down at this time and we took our last few photos and, just like Disneyland, found ourselves exiting through the gift shop, in the form of the Padres team shop where we had started the tour.
Overall, I enjoyed the tour. It was well worth the $11 and approximately two hours that it took. Getting on the field and in the dugouts would have been worth it alone, but add the other out of the way areas that we were able to visit and the history lesson that was intermingled and it was a great way to spend my 31st birthday!
Tours of ballparks are a great way to get up close and personal either with a ballpark you’ve never previously visited or to reacquaint yourself with your home park that you have visited a hundred times before. Sadly, in my research I have yet to find the Angels offering a tour of the Big A, but I plan on taking advantage of the tours on the two brand-new parks that I will be visiting later this season, but more on that in the future.
Have you ever toured a ballpark? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?