Five games, Five ballparks, Five sunburns and the Q: Another Spring Training in Phoenix | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Five games, Five ballparks, Five sunburns and the Q: Another Spring Training in Phoenix

Last Wednesday, my dad and I flew in to Phoenix for Spring Training.  It was our second year in a row of watching baseball that doesn’t matter in the Valley of the Sun, and this year’s trip was even better than the last.  Of course, the outcomes of the games don’t mean anything. The players we know only play four or five innings a game (if at all) and the mid-day heat of the Arizona can bother even the most ardent of fans. But none of that is important to us as we spend a few days in the sun enjoying not only the game we love, but also the return of spring and the hope of another Rockies playoff run—all of that adding up to what my brother Sean (himself not even a baseball fan) appropriately calls “The Baseball Feeling”.

The trip started with a visit to the Rangers’ facility in Surprise.  Although driving in stop-and-go traffic up dreaded Grand Avenue was an ordeal, the Rockies won a wild and wacky game over the defending AL champions, 11-10.  Among the unsurprising portions of the game were a towering blast by a minor-leaguer off of former Rockies closer Franklin Morales, a wild Rockies comeback in the late innings, and not one but two instances of poor baserunning by Eric Young Jr., one of the fastest but also one of the poorest baserunners in the game.  With the winning run at the plate in the ninth, the Rangers hit into a game-ending line-drive double play to seal a bizarre win for the Rockies.

After some poor directions from the locals and the resulting hour-long drive, we checked in to the luxurious $65-a-night Red Roof Inn right off I-10.  Game two was the next day at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, home of the Oakland A’s.  The stadium was easily the worst we’d visited in our history of Spring Training baseball (aside from Tucson’s Hi Corbett Field, which we visited some fifteen years ago), but the game did not disappoint.  Our seats were in the left field corner—a very unfriendly spot if one has trouble with neck pain, but we were seated right next to the Cubs bullpen, which included among others, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and a much-maligned Kerry Wood.  A well-played game for six innings until the major leaguers departed, the game deteriorated afterward but was still not short on excitement, ending fittingly with Marshall surrendering a walk-off double to send the home fans happy after a 6-5 game.

The nightcap took us to Peoria Sports Complex, but not before a stop at Famous Dave’s Barbecue, where a couple of drunks gave us some good-natured abuse as we proudly sported the red and white of my hometown Nationals, their spring training camp some 2,500 miles away.  After a hot link, a brisket sandwich and a two-dollar Miller Lite draft, we were off to the ballpark for Padres-Rangers.

It has been said that you can go to a baseball game and see something you’ve never (or rarely) seen before.  This happened twice in Peoria that night.  In the third inning, a Padres hitter reached on, of all things, catcher’s interference by Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden, whom we’d seen in person several years earlier at the College World Series.  The other oddity was a more unfortunate one.  The Padres built a 15-1 lead by the fifth inning with the help of five Ranger errors and a boatload of walks, and so we did the unthinkable (for us) and left the pathetic game an inning early in favor of soothing our sunburns with air-conditioning and our thirsts with a two-liter of coke.

Friday afternoon led us to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the brand-new Spring Training home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies.  By far the most impressive facility in the Cactus League, the ballpark seated over 12,000 and drew that many with ease.  The game itself was excellent.  Not only did we watch Rockies cornerstones Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki in action, but we saw Ryan Braun, also for the first time since our visit to the College World Series.  Prince Fielder also treated us to a monstrous bomb off of unfortunate fifth-starter hopeful Greg Reynolds, but at the end it was the Rockies who came out on top, 9-7.

But after the game was when the fun really started.  Former Grinnell College Pioneer ace Sam Eaton took us on a tour of the D-backs’ facility, showing us all six fields, including one that mirrored the exact dimensions of Chase Field, plus the weight room, executive offices (to go along with Sam’s executive cubicle next to longtime MLB executive Roland Hemond), and even the bunting field.  Yes—at Salt River Fields there is even a separate field for bunting.

After the tour, and a quick bite to eat at a pizza joint south of the bar, Sam and I took off for dinner and drinks with Diamondbacks Assistant Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken, a former major leaguer but best known to my dad and me as a member of the 1995 Pacific Coast League Champion Colorado Springs Sky Sox.  It was truly a privilege to meet Quinton, or “Q” as he is called around the office, as he humored (even delighted) me with stories of his teammates on the Triple-A squad that I had seen for fifty games in that magical season.  Those fifty included two playoff games on the road at Hi Corbett Field, and the final game of the postseason, won after Jim Tatum’s bloop single scored Ced Landrum in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Salt Lake Buzz.  A true gentleman, Q was everything I’d hoped he would be, obviously a great baseball mind but also a student of the game–someone I’d love to have sitting just steps away from me at the office.

After Q paid our entire tab and left to go home to his family, Sam and I enjoyed a few beers and reminisced about the good old days in Pioneertown.  We also discussed what a dump the bar next to his apartment we were patronizing was, but that was neither here nor there.  At the end of the night, I crashed on Sam’s love seat, the blanket barely covering my worn-out body as my feet dangled haphazardly off the side, reminding me of some of my favorite nights on campus.

Sam and I said our goodbyes the next morning, though I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.  After an hour of watching the Rockies’ minor leaguers take BP and go through other drills, the final day of our trip brought us to Camelback Ranch, home of the White Sox and Dodgers.  The game eventually ended in a 6-6 tie and featured a couple of great plays at the plate.  However, the most notable moment of the game may have come in the bottom of the tenth.  With one out and nobody on, a minor-league pitcher was taking forever with his pitches, and it finally prompted a visit from the catcher.  On the next pitch, Jay Gibbons hit a 410-foot flyout to center field.  No one will ever know what words were exchanged on that mound at that moment in time, but we speculated that they may have been something along the lines of, “I’m hungry.  Groove one, and let’s get out of here.”

After a postgame meal at PF Chang’s, the best I’d had in weeks (and a few tense moments of what my dad called “psychotic parking lot behavior”–another story for another time), we headed back to the Roof for some sleep and, yes, a little NCAA basketball in spite of ourselves.

The next morning brought an end to our trip and a return to life as we know it, though I will be taking bright red sunburns on both knees, both arms and my neck home with me, to go along with my new D-backs polo from Sam.  Opening Day is just a week away, but there is something about the magic of Spring Training that can never be duplicated.  There is a reason that fans pay no attention to preseason basketball and view preseason football as an annoyance, but yet are willing to fly thousands of miles to watch Spring Training baseball games.  This is a time for hope, a time for excitement, and for this fan at least, time to trade in that winter knit hat for a Colorado Rockies stars-and-stripes Fifty-Nine-Fifty baseball cap.

So call it spring fever.  Call it the end of the Winter Blues.  Or just call it The Baseball Feeling.  But baseball has arrived.

Let the season begin.

1 Comment

  1. julia.m. says:

    this is awesome

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