8 tips for Spring Training in Arizona
Ladies and gents, it’s that time of year again, for one of my favorite seasons of the year. No, not the spring bloom season, but rather Spring Training. And for international readers or those who are new to WTG, the mention of "Spring Training" may draw to mind the “confused face” emoji, and likely questions about what exactly it is. Spring Training is neither boot camp nor a fitness class that trains you for getting that summer beach bod back, but rather Major League Baseball’s exhibition season, which takes place in Arizona (Cactus League) and Florida (Grapefruit League) every March. But stick with me here, if you aren't a sports fan and aren't sold yet.
Since moving to Southern California several years ago, I’ve made it a point to make a Spring Training road trip to Scottsdale, Arizona every March. In my opinion, it’s professional sports in America in its purest form. Spring Training is kind of like if you were able to see your favorite movie or television actors perform an exhibition in a small theater or watch your favorite musicians practice their songs in a cocktail lounge for just a few dollars.
Games take place during the day in small stadiums (many of which only seat a few thousand), where tickets are often no more than $10-$20, and with many teams hosting autograph sessions when you can interact with players and coaches. Pretty rad, right? The vibe, environment, and weather makes for one of my favorite travel experiences in America.
So following the first weekend of Spring Training, and with my annual Scottsdale Spring Training road trip next weekend, I wanted to share some of my tips for making the most of Spring Training in Arizona.
Buy tickets ahead of time only for marquee matchups
While the stadiums are small, this is neither Opening Day nor the playoffs when you have to scour StubHub for tickets. Some games will sell out, but they are usually weekend marquee matchups, like the Cubs/Dodgers game I tried to attend last year. Often you can just walk up and get tickets at the ticket window, and typically for just a few dollars. But for peace of mind, you can also grab tickets the day of games online. For example, a quick search of this past weekend's first few games showed available tickets for as low as a few dollars.
Take a small backpack with the essentials for lawn seats
One of my favorite Spring Training experiences is to go to the stadiums with lawn seats, and pack the essentials in a backpack, such as a blanket and sunscreen. Also, many stadiums allow a sealed water bottle (or an empty reusable bottle to fill up at the stadium) to be brought in, and in some cases, outside food. Nonetheless, review stadium policies before taking a big backpack filled with goodies. Even still, the stadium food and drinks are far cheaper than regular season games.
Save on tickets, splurge on lodging
Whether you want to or not, you’ll probably be splurging on accommodations in and around Phoenix, since this is the most popular time of year. But since you’re saving on baseball tickets and stadium food & drinks, I recommend splurging on Phoenix/Scottsdale accommodations, be it a nice hotel or vacation rental.
I’ve stayed at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (where I'm fortunate to have been hosted in the past), which I like because it’s a destination in and of itself. Highlights of the Fairmont include the TPC Scottsdale golf course, multiple pools (and a poolside beach), restaurants like La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval and Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina, and an on-site tequila goddess (yes, really). Additionally, many hotels offer Spring Training packages that include things like transportation and free nights (with qualifying stays).
If you can't score the hotel you want, I'd recommend perusing Airbnb. Plan far enough in advance and you may even score a vacation rental with a pool.
Stay near the action
And by “action,” I mean whatever “action” may mean for you. Many fans just plan on going to the games of their favorite team, which if so, means staying near that team’s home stadium. For the Cubs, it's Mesa, for the Dodgers, it's Glendale, for the Giants, it's Scottsdale, and the list goes on, including Peoria, Phoenix, Surprise, Tempe, and Goodyear. If “action” means food and nightlife, then I recommend Scottsdale, and being relatively close to Old Town, or staying in Central Phoenix.
Take advantage of free transit
Most of the cities and stadiums offer a variety of alternative transportation options, some of which are even free. Most notably in Scottsdale is the free Scottsdale Trolley, which during Spring Training makes a stop at Scottsdale Stadium, where the Giants play. Elsewhere, there's a free shuttle between the Talking Stick Entertainment District (where Salt River Fields is located, home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies) and downtown Scottsdale, and a free trolley to Cubs games at Sloan Park from Tempe Marketplace.
Pick games based on stadium experience
Having been to many of the Cactus League’s stadiums in Arizona, I’ve discovered that there are some stadiums that are simply better than others, which I gravitate to because of the elevated Spring Training experience they offer. That includes Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Scottsdale Stadium for their lawn seats and local restaurants, and Sloan Park, which is like a mini Wrigley Field.
Go to a saloon
Yes, a saloon (not a salon). The Phoenix area is home to some amazing old school saloons, my favorite of which is the Rusty Spur in Old Town Scottsdale, dating back 60 years. Others include the Maverick Saloon, Buffalo Chip Saloon, and Steel House Saloon, dubbed “Arizona’s Original Biker Bar.” Generally speaking, the Phoenix and Scottsdale area has a great food and drink scene, and you won’t be left wanting.
Download a Spring Training guide
Finally, many of the cities hosting Spring Training games in Arizona have print and digital guides, of which Experience Scottsdale's digital Spring Training guide is among the best. This guide has everything from Spring Training history to tips on getting around to recommendations of things to do off the field. Download it here. Play ball!