Ladies and Gentlemen, it's official. Each Major League Baseball team has now fully reported to Spring Training 2016 - well at least their pitchers and catchers have. The rest of the players and All-Stars will be rolling in sometime this week.
And with that comes my favorite time of year. Spring Baseball. The Cactus League. Party time in the outfield lawn.
I'm a veteran Spring Training connoisseur, going on 20 years of Cactus League action, including serious taste test experiments of 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, and the ones with the hottest female bartenders. You could say I am the human guinea pig of the Cactus League.
With all that said, let's get on with the show.
2016 Spring Training and the Cactus League officially get started with their first games on Tuesday, March 1st.
I'm heading to the Valley on Wednesday, with my first game being Thursday, March 3rd. First stop will be Scottsdale Stadium to check out the Brew Crew versus the future 2016 World Champion San Francisco Giants. I mean, it's an even year, so they are pretty much a lock to win the title, just as they did in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The Brewers are the Brewers, so who really cares?
I'll also be taking in an Arizona DBacks game, on paper, they should be very good this year. The addition of Zack Greinke makes them a legit contender in the NL West. And let's not forget about Yasmani Tomas. Here's the Cuban Refugee himself hitting an absolute bomb in the World Baseball Classic (Cuba v Japan). 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.
Other teams I'll get a chance to watch are San Diego Padres, a team who the most they have going for them is the fact they've finally brought the brown back in their uniforms.
If you plan on taking a trip to the Valley of the Sun 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.
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: Woody's, The Vig, RnR, Dos Gringos, Coach House, The Mission and OHSO.
Bottled Blond is known for it's quite sassy (and easy on the eyes) female bartenders. I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin.
Other bar options: for just getting wasted, check out Gilligan's and get a game of beer pong in. The afore mentioned RnR has great music, a beautiful upstairs patio and games like "bags" to help you pass the time before the game.
Aix the French Bulldog and I at OHSO (bike and dog friendly)
Unsure 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. And often times, they'll have retired baseball players working the bar. 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. P.S. The sunglasses also help conceal when you "accidentally" check out the hotties who will be sitting around you, wearing basically nothing.
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 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals...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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