Watching Hometown Baseball at Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona

Salt River Fields Located in Scottsdale Arizona

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick Welcomes Baseball Fans in the Shadow of a Setting Sun (Photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

A bright blue sky and mild temperatures: Spring weather in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a far cry from the March snows of Wisconsin, which I once called home. And it’s perfect weather for spring training baseball. I donned long jeans, my husband wore shorts and we both left our jackets in our closet. Desert living has its perks.

My husband and I are not diehard baseball fans, but we’re here because the two teams playing tonight pique our interest: it’s our past against our present: the Milwaukee Brewers are playing Scottsdale’s resident-favorite, the Arizona Diamondbacks. We anticipate a little good-natured spectator entertainment.

In Your Bucket Because . . .

  • You love major league baseball so much you want to soak in every possible game.
  • You want a bit of hometown while vacationing away from cold winters.
  • Spring training games are in smaller venues, allowing fans to see players close up.
  • Good for children and families who seek autographs or wants a one-time special photograph.

Fans of the Milwaukee Brewers Mingle in Arizona

Baseball Fans in Arizona

Baseball Fans Wait for the Game to Start Under a Typical Arizona Sky (Photo credit: Chris Eirschele, c 2013)

As dusk approaches, the flood lights on tall metal poles light up the field. Several distinctive loud cracks of a bat striking a ball vibrate in our ears before the game has even started. Our seats are steps from the Brewers’ bull pen, just three rows from the low wall that separates fans from the field. As corny as it may sound, I had forgotten how much watching baseball in person is about sharing a uniquely American past-time.

I overhear three people behind us talking about the Brewers. I strike up a conversation with them, and they explain that the Nashville Sound is the Triple-A team for the Milwaukee Brewers. Depending on how players do during spring training, they can be “called up” giving them a chance at major league play or “sent down” back to the minor league team.

The ball field is pristine with a neatly cut sod surrounding the sable brown baseball diamond. Outfielders stroll onto the field right in front of us and pair up for a game of catch, except this catch is major league style. I am sitting in a direct line behind one of the players; he puts out his glove and SMACK, the ball connects with the leather. It suddenly dawns on me that there is a conspicuous absence of net or fence. A lady in front of me says what I am thinking, “I’ll duck, and you guys next to me better catch it!”

A family sits over to the left of us. The two boys have brought bats, in hope of snagging a player’s autograph. Another block of seats is filling up, with two and three people arriving at a time, but everyone in the group seems to know each other. Maybe it is an office party? Later, I spot a gaggle of snowbirds (northerners who migrate to a warmer climate each winter). Their unabated wild applause, as the Brewers strike a Diamondback player out, made their identification easy.

Milwaukee Brewer Slides to Second

Hope Still Alive as Milwaukee Brewer Slides to Second Base (Photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

Scottsdale’s Version of Baseball Season

The food stands that surround the upper decks of the stadium pride themselves on their own versions of barbecue or Mexican dishes. The endless tendrils of smoke floating up and up into a cloudless sky showed that they did a brisk business. But we want baseball food: After a long walk, we managed to find a stall that satisfied our craving for hot dogs and caramel corn at the ballpark.

My husband and I have picked sides: He’s switched allegiance, to our new life here in Arizona; I remain loyal to the players back home. The game starts slowly. Right fielder, Norichika Aoki catches a pop up at the rail of the batters cage. He tosses it to a fan just behind me in the stands, who later gave it to an elderly woman for a memento.

We hear the live organ music: the theme song from the Adams Family television show fills the air, followed by polka music that gives us a familiar Milwaukee feel. Hawkers walk up and down the concrete steps managing large square crates filled with beers, water bottles and bags of peanuts. Balancing popcorn bags clipped to narrow metal towers, while others yell out their offerings: “Cotton candy and lemonade for sale.” The gab and jab between hawker and fans seated in the long rows – so much a part of major league baseball games in big stadiums – transcends the off-season desert location. Each participant is innately familiar with the code of hand signals and trust: bills are passed down from person to person, to the end of the row, where the sale was concluded, and the product and change passed back.

The game continues: John Axford, a long-legged pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, strides on to the mound, as previously subdued fans erupt in cheers. He is the team’s “closer,” and pitches a scoreless inning. But two runs in the 6th inning bring the sleepy stadiums awake with a roar; now it is Diamondbacks 3, Brewers 0. My husband’s team is winning: He smiles; I laugh while I call him a “traitor.”

Scottsdale Spring Training Has the Cactus League

Peoria Spring Training

Peoria Arizona Spring Training Home to San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners (Photo credit: Chuck Eirschele, c 2013)

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the home field stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies spring training teams. Located along Scottsdale’s eastern border with Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, it is one of several Scottsdale stadiums that Major League Baseball uses for spring training.

The Cactus League began in 1947, when Scottsdale hosted spring training for the Cleveland Indians and New York Giants. Spring Training runs from February through March in the Phoenix metropolitan area, with 15 teams playing each other at several area stadiums. The Peoria Sport Complex was the first two-team facility built in the country. It is home to the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners. Northeast of Phoenix, downtown Scottsdale is now home to the San Francisco Giants at the Scottsdale Stadium.

The Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the second-newest Major League Baseball spring training facility. The stadium seats 11,000 visitors, provides a separate clubhouse for each home team and has 12 full-sized practice fields.

The final was a disappointing 7 – 0 for the Diamondbacks, a shut out for the Milwaukee Brewers. My husband knows better than to rub in the loss – though he rolls his eyes when I say, “They would have won if they had played on their home turf in Maryvale.”

Home field for the Milwaukee Brewers spring training is Maryvale Baseball Park located on the western side of Phoenix. “Yes, yes,” says my husband. “That’s it, I am sure.”

Practicalities

  • Scottsdale, Arizona, is warmer than northern and eastern states during winter but may be chilly in the evening; bring a light jacket or sweater for night games.
  • Be prepared for many bright cloudless days in Scottsdale: wear sunglasses or a hat for day games, wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
  • Purchase the spring training booklet at the gate. It’s only a dollar and there is an official scorecard inside for filling in game statistics. The booklet also makes a handy souvenir and impromptu place to add player autographs.
  • The Stadium Map shows visitors where stadiums are logistically placed in relation to each other, making it easier to plan attending games of a favorite team.

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