By Bernie Pleskoff
We are about six weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training in Arizona and Florida. For many like me, it is the best time of the year.
Today I want to share some information about my experiences in Arizona Spring Training venues. Perhaps you will be traveling to the Valley of the Sun this coming spring. Or, perhaps you are just curious about the spring experience in Arizona.
Spring Training is a different experience in Arizona than Florida. There are similarities, but there are vast differences as well. While I don’t like to generalize, there are very real differences in the fan experience that I hope to illustrate in my next two articles:
Let me begin with the basics. If you are planning to rent a car for your time in Arizona, I suggest you find your way to your hotel and rent from a company that will bring the car to you and/or rent from a company near your hotel. Renting a car at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix adds lots and lots of money to your bottom line bill due to airport-related rental fees.
Spring Training in Arizona is divided into two distinct areas within the Valley of the Sun. They are the area in and around Phoenix and the areas in the suburbs.
East Valley suburban venues include Tempe (Angels) Mesa (Cubs and Athletics) and Scottsdale (Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies).
A Central Valley venue exists in Maryvale, Arizona, a neighborhood of Phoenix on the west side of the city. That is the home of the Brewers.
West Valley suburban venues include Goodyear (Reds and Indians), Surprise (Rangers and Royals) Glendale (Dodgers and White Sox) and Peoria (Mariners and Padres).
Factors unique to the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix area) include venues that are closer to each other than those in Florida. There is less driving required and shorter distances between venues than in Florida. The longest ride between the venues furthest apart (Goodyear to Tempe for example) may be an hour with moderate traffic. It is longer in rush hour.
Each venue in Phoenix is relatively new or has been refreshed within the past few years. Maryvale, home of the Brewers is going to be rehabbed in the near future.
Seating capacities in Arizona are generally less intimate and venues are generally larger than most in Florida.
In general, many of the communities related to Spring Training in Arizona are newer, younger and have less history and tradition than Florida Spring Training communities. Many of the Phoenix suburban communities are part of the spread out Valley area that is growing bigger every year. Some stores, shopping centers and housing developments are still being planned and built in some of the newer suburban areas of Phoenix.
Some Spring Training venues in Florida have waterfront, or oceanfront hotels to attract fans and their non-baseball loving families and friends. Phoenix is in the desert. There is no oceanfront hotel available. However, there are lakes to be found in the Valley.
Spring Training fans love to visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona when in Arizona. Both are within driving distance between a couple hours (Sedona) and closer to a half day away (Canyon). Both are worth the time and effort to visit.
Florida is home to Disney World and various other theme parks. There is nothing quite like Disney World in the Valley. There are, however, water parks and entertainment, but nothing can compare with the Florida theme centers.
While in Florida, fans can possibly see alligators, especially in and around the Everglades if they cross the state. In Phoenix, fans may encounter coyotes and/or javelinas (wild pigs with a weird odor) if they venture anywhere near the open desert.
Arizona has lots of In-N-Out Burger restaurants. And lots of Culver’s custard restaurants. Florida offers its share of Steak & Shakes and plenty more editions of Waffle House. Take your pick.
ARIZONA SPRING TRAINING VENUES
Salt River Field at Talking Stick-Diamondbacks and Rockies (Scottsdale)
This is an 11,000-seat, state-of-the-art venue. Talking Stick is the first Spring Training facility to be opened on Indian land. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indians Community built the property. There are 12 practice fields and office buildings that serve the Dbacks and Rockies. Built on 140 acres of beautiful land in the north Scottsdale area, the award-winning venue has beautiful views of the McDowell Mountains, Red Mountain, and the Superstition Mountains. Talking Stick is a destination location every spring for anyone wishing to sit outside in the beautiful sunshine at a remarkable facility and take in baseball, eat, drink and enjoy life. Talking Stick Casino sits across the 101 Expressway from Salt River Field. An outdoor shopping center adjacent to Salt River Fields offers a wide variety of stores, food and drink.
Sloan Park-Chicago Cubs (Mesa)
Built and opened in 2014, Sloan Park is the newest Spring Training venue in Arizona.
It was built and paid for by the citizens of Mesa and is a state-of-the-art facility. There are 15,000 seats at Sloan Park and on most days, they are all filled. The naming rights belong to the Sloan Valve Company. One of the highlights of Sloan Park is the vast array of food products, many of which like the hot dogs and pizza, are Chicago based products. Frankly, there isn’t much in the way of food or drink surrounding Sloan. An outdoor shopping center awaits fans about two miles west of the stadium.
Scottsdale Stadium-San Francisco Giants- (Scottsdale)
Attending a game and being in the environment in and around Scottsdale Stadium is a unique and incredible experience. I don’t think there is another experience that matches Giants Spring Training. The original stadium was built in 1956. It served as Spring Training headquarters for the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics and now the San Francisco Giants. The new stadium was opened in 1992. Renovation took place in 2005. The stadium sits in Old Town Scottsdale, which is consumed, taken over and belongs in total to Giants fans for block after block, and street after street from February through March. Some of the finest restaurants, clubs, watering holes and drinking establishments in Arizona can be found in Old Town Scottsdale. Scottsdale Stadium has a private club just beyond the right-field bleachers that rocks every home game. Huge business deals are hammered out in that venue. Some of the most unique food vending stations surrounds the entire interior of the stadium. Beer flows from dawn to dusk in the vicinity of the stadium. If you plan to go to a Giants game at Scottsdale Stadium, plan ahead. Buy your tickets in advance and plan on emptying your wallet. Due to limited supply and high demand in the entire multiple block area, the Old Town area can get a bit pricey. But the experience is well worth the investment in time and money.
Camelback Ranch-Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers (Glendale)
Seating 13,000, Camelback Ranch gets very mixed reviews. The facility is built with natural stone, and rusty metal panels, making the architecture unique. However, fans attending games complain that the sun is brutal. When built, the field was designed so the fans face mountain views-and look into the sun. A five-acre lake system is a highlight of the venue. Crowds for White Sox games are distinctly different from those of Dodgers games and the experience changes depending upon the home team. That isn’t quite the same feeling one gets at Talking Stick with the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The park is rather isolated on Camelback Road north of the 101 Expressway. Food and drink may be found in many of the entertainment centers that surround the football stadium, which is east on the 101 Expressway and a short ride from Camelback Ranch.
Goodyear Ballpark-Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds (Goodyear)
The Cleveland Indians moved into Goodyear Ballpark from their home in Winter Haven Florida in 2009. The Reds moved from Sarasota, Florida to Goodyear the following season once their team complex was finished. The stadium holds 8,000 stadium seats and 1500 lawn seats. I have rarely, if ever been to the park when it is completely sold out. The ambiance isn’t quite as sparkling or as dynamic as Talking Stick, Sloan or Camelback Ranch. Goodyear Ballpark is more modest in its trimmings and it cost less to build. However, the sight lines and the game experience are outstanding for fans. They love the park. Food items and offerings are not as vast as the other new facilities. Food venues or even hotels do not surround the facility. It sits fairly alone along the main drag of a still emerging western suburb.
Maryvale Baseball Park-Milwaukee Brewers (Phoenix, Arizona)
Located on the west side of Phoenix, Maryvale Ball Park will be getting a complete renovation in the coming years. Located on 51st Avenue in west Phoenix, the park sits in the Maryvale community. Only day games are scheduled at Maryvale Ball Park. With 7,000 seats, the experience is outstanding for fans. This is one venue where the team’s identity from their home community thrives during the spring. Brewers fans love the brats and beer served at the park. The kettle corn is probably the best in all of Spring Training-both Florida and Arizona. Fans get to watch the famed “sausage races” just as they have them back at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The “Beer Barrel Polka” is played at each and every Brewers spring home game. I love going to Maryvale because it is one of the “throwback” parks where a quaint and fan-friendly atmosphere permeates the premises. It may be the most “fan friendly” of any park I ever visit. People just leave there smiling-win or lose.
Tempe Diablo Stadium-Los Angeles Angels (Tempe)
Tempe Diablo has been around a while. It has been the home of the Seattle Pilots, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Seattle Mariners and now the Angels. Built in 1968 and renovated in 2006, the stadium is in good condition and fans enjoy the atmosphere. The stadium holds 9,558 fans and it is sold out frequently. I have never been to an Angels home game at Diablo that had a sparse crowd. Never. The Angels have a lease with Tempe until 2025. The park sits in a rather industrial area. The arrival of Shohei Ohtani should keep the park buzzing all spring.
Peoria Sports Complex-San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners (Peoria)
Located in Peoria, Arizona, a large and very prominent suburb in the West Valley, the Peoria Sports Complex serves multi-purposes and is used year round. 12 practice fields and office buildings surround the stadium for the Padres and Mariners. The stadium capacity is 12,000. A huge outfield berm area is a very popular destination for fans. The 83rd Avenue corridor is a very thriving and active area surrounding the stadium. Restaurants, bars, hotels and the lengthy Bell Road corridor are all inviting destinations for baseball fans attending Padres and Mariners games. Great food vending stations surround the interior of the complex on game days serving unique and fun food and beer. This is a fun fan experience and venue.
Surprise Stadium-Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals (Surprise)
The suburb of Surprise is still growing, with new retail and housing complexes being built on the outskirts of the city limits. Built as part of the larger Surprise Recreation Campus, Surprise Stadium is a beautiful, functional and very well maintained facility that was the prototype for some of the new sharp spring complexes. The venue seats 10,714 and large crowds, if not total sellouts are the norm. Opened in December 2002, Surprise Stadium has hosted baseball at the high school, collegiate and professional levels. The ambiance surrounding the stadium doesn’t have the pizzazz of Old Scottsdale or even Peoria, but there are enough good restaurants, watering holes and hotels on Bell Road and the vicinity to satisfy even the most discriminating fan. This is a beautiful complex worthy of the awards it has won.
AMONG MY FAVORITES-some places I visit in the Valley
DON AND CHARLIE’S-7501 East Camelback Road
Frankly, there are hundreds of top quality food and drink establishments that dot the landscape in and around the Valley of the Sun in Arizona. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one in particular. I have no connection to Don and Charlie’s. I do, however, feel it would be a mistake to come to Spring Training in Arizona and not visit this iconic restaurant. Why? Since 1981 the restaurant has been a mecca for the sports and entertainment world in Scottsdale. Every square inch of every wall in the restaurant is adorned with sports memorabilia-most of it baseball related. Most of it autographed. One would not be considered “odd” or out of place making a tour around the restaurant to visit the items on the walls. The restaurant is located at 7501 East Camelback Road-east of Scottsdale Boulevard.
FASHION SQUARE MALL-7014 E. Camelback Road
Fashion Square Mall is also on Camelback Road, just east of Scottsdale Boulevard. If you have someone with you who doesn’t like baseball and wants something to do while you’re at a game, Fashion Square Mall might be just the place. An indoor shopping mall with anchor department stores, a huge movie theatre, restaurants, specialty shops and a food court, the mall is worth the visit. I would say it is the finest indoor mall in Arizona. Fashion Square Mall is the place many go to find just what they are looking for.
BILTMORE FASHION PARK-2502 E. Camelback Road.
Located a few miles east of Fashion Square, Biltmore Shopping Center and Mall is an iconic upscale Phoenix location with trendy and beautiful shops and restaurants. Within five miles of Biltmore Fashion Park, one can find some of the best restaurants and shops the area has to offer. Many baseball teams stay in the Biltmore area when their team plays the Diamondbacks during the season.
LOU MALNATI’S PIZZA-100 E. Camelback Road
Without question, my favorite pizza in Phoenix is at Lou Malnati’s. Rapidly growing as a chain, Lou Malnati’s is a Chicago based pizza restaurant that I have always loved. The crust has a unique buttery flavor that can’t be beaten. If you like deep-dish pizza, Lou Malnati’s is superb. The restaurant is tucked in the corner of a shopping center at the intersections of Central Avenue and Camelback Roads. Hard to find once one arrives at the shopping center, the restaurant has a sign that is barely visible-but it is kind of in the center of the center. I think you’ll love the place.
PORTILLO’S HOT DOGS-10574 N. 90th Street, Scottsdale, 2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway in Mesa and 66 S. Mcclintock in Tempe
Portillo’s is one of the most popular hot dog restaurants in Chicago. Like many Chicago eateries, they have moved to the Valley of the Sun. The Rio Salado location is very close to Sloan Park. Fans flock to Portillo’s before and after games. I love the place.
Of course, I could go on and on about the Valley. I’ve stuck mainly to the Camelback corridor near Old Town in this piece. Maybe at some other time, I will branch out and write about other places.
If you have a favorite place in either the Valley or in Florida you want me to try, please tweet that to me @BerniePleskoff. I’d love to hear from you.
Next time: Florida Spring Training