Ladies and gents... welcome to the Cactus League.
I'm a veteran Spring Training connoisseur, going on 21 years of Cactus League action, including hundreds of taste test experiments with bratwurst, polish sausages and ice cold craft beer. In fact, I estimate I've taken in about 160 Cactus League games, equating to nearly 500 hours of spring ball. I know how to sneak in peanuts, saving you $8, because you won't have to buy their rip-off 2 oz. bag. (HINT: wear baggy shorts with deep pockets). I also know where the best beer stands are, which stadiums to visit and which ones to stay away from.
You could say I am the human guinea pig of the Cactus League. You're welcome.
With all that said, let's get on with the show.
2017 Spring Training and the Arizona Cactus League technically starts on Tuesday, February 22nd (I know... super early this year!) with an in-state matchup between your Arizona Diamondbacks and Grand Canyon University, aka the Lopes.
Maybe you've heard of the Lopes, since they're becoming well known for basketball (head coach Thunder Dan Majerle), but baseball is not their thing. Still, it could be fun to watch. I mean if nothing else, it means baseball is back! I'm guessing they'll use wood bats, because if they go with aluminum, some Dbacks player might be the first in history to hit a 1,000 ft. homerun.
The reason spring ball is starting so early this year is because of the World Baseball Classic, which I'm excited about since many of the games will be held in San Diego's Petco Park, my hometown stadium.
Here's a highlight of Cuban representative and current Dback, Yasmani Tomas hitting an absolute bomb in the World Baseball Classic (featuring Cubs v Japan, in Tokyo). Unsure if when he hit it he yelled out, "Ippon!", and no, I don't know what that means. -- Editor note: after researching, it means "one full point" so it's entirely possible that's exactly what he said.
I'm heading to the Valley of the Sun on Friday, February 24th to watch the first official spring game featuring the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds, held in Scottsdale Stadium. The Giants failed in their every even year quest last year and failed to win World Series in an even year for the first time since 2010. So they go into an odd year (2017) sailing into unchartered waters. They'll be an interesting team to watch.
Another fascinating team is the Chicago Cubs, aka the World Champs, and yes that feels strange to say. I'll see them on my second day, Saturday Feb 25th, in Scottsdale versus the Giants. For what it's worth, I predicted the Cubs were going to be legit last year. I'll get back to you on who I think can win it all this year - because that's not what this post is about.
If you plan on taking a trip to the AZ this Spring, I highly encourage you to check out the following: Scottsdale Stadium, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Sloan Park, the new home of the Cubs. Scottsdale Stadium is giant social gathering -- think Las Vegas pool party with a baseball game going on -- and it's my second favorite ballpark, only behind Wrigley Field.
Where to drink...
If you're only going to the Cactus League to check out your favorite team, that's cool too, but make sure you take advantage of Phoenix/Scottsdale in March and everything they have to offer. This includes, but is not limited to my favorite watering holes... here are a few:
Bottled Blonde - gorgeous bartenders, servers and clientele. During spring training the staff dresses up in sexy baseball uniforms. At night, they'll dance on the bars and tables. You're welcome.
Woody's - same owner as the Vig, both are cool spots, I like Woody's better because of the dark wood and owl theme
The Vig - great spot for backyard games like bocce ball
RnR - beautiful outdoor patio right near Scottsdale Stadium (warning: it can get really loud here and they crank the music)
Dos Gringos - dive bar and Mexican cantina, cheap food and drinks
Whiskey Row - similar to Bottled Blonde, but a country bar. In fact the full name is Dierks Bentely's Whiskey Row, so you it's country themed. But if even if you don't like country music, you should still check it out. The scantly-clad female bartenders wear leather and chaps, dance on the bar and pour Fireball shots directly into your mouth. #noshotglassrequired
Coach House - a staple and one of Scottsdale's oldest bars dating back to 1959
The Mission - great food, tequilla and atmosphere
O.H.S.O. - craft brewery, super chill and dog friendly
Where to stay...
Airbnb offers amazing options at great prices. Go that route and save money so you can spend it on adult beverages at the game and post game parties. Valley hotels jack up the prices during Spring Training, so this is your more economic option.
If that's not your style though and you want to stay at a nice hotel/resort where you can "see and be seen", the Valley Ho is a beautiful throw back, vintage style resort. Bonus, it has incredible pool parties. The W Scottsdale is bad ass (warning you're going to pay for it), so is the Omni Scottsdale Resort at Montelucia (free plug for a former client of mine).
Maybe you just want to drink, gamble and watch baseball? If so, stay at the Talking Stick Resort where you can literally stumble your way to the game and back again.
The Cactus League is BIG business in Arizona. Check out this awesome infographic (credit: ticketsnow.com). $632MM in 2012 and I'm certain that number has gone up as Spring Training is becoming even more popular. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility to say it now generates $1 Billion annually (yes, with a "B").
Another time tested activity is mimicking the concession vendors' catch phrases and Scottsdale Stadium is home to some of the best. Mark the Beer Guy travels from Wrigley Field to the Scottsdiggity along with his "Beer Guy Trading Cards" (now that's some marketing). Lemonade man is my favorite and you can hear him from hundreds of feet away, "Lemonade Lemonade, Like Gramma Made!". The red ropes guy is good too with his rainbow sunglasses, but I'm pretty sure the only thing he can say is "REEEEEEDDDD ROPES!".
Speaking of sunglasses, it's crucial you are well prepared for the games. It's called the Valley of the Sun for a reason, people. Remember your sunblock, designer shades (the Cactus League prides itself on the well dressed beautiful people), hats and spray bottles for misting yourself and friends.
Another trick/hack, ride a bike to the games. If you don't have one, rent one. This will save you loads on parking and time. It's what I do. It makes it super easy to get in and out of the stadiums and on to your post game rituals, whatever those might be.
And finally...because everyone loves lists...
The Top 13 Reasons You NEED to Visit The Cactus League:
1) Because it's not in Florida. That humidity. Yuck.
2) Because you won't find the Yankees anywhere near Arizona
3) Craft Beer (AZ is quickly catching up to other beer meccas like San Diego and Portland)
4) The entire NL West is there
5) The Salty Senorita and Dos Gringos beer girls
6) It's the most beautiful time of year in AZ
7) Camelback Mountain
8) Old Town Scottsdale
9) I'll be there
10) Because you won't find the Red Sox anywhere near Arizona
11) The surprising Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs...who knew?
12) Sit in the outfield grass, work on your tan and enjoy the scenery
13) What's better than a Cactus League baseball game? 2 Cactus League baseball games. Many of the stadiums have lights and will host night games, meaning you can take in a 1pm game and a 7pm game, both in the same day. Aka, no reason to stop drinking.
What about you? What are you most looking forward to?
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