Spring Training in Scottsdale
This time of year is one of my favorite times of year. Yes, with clocks springing forward, it means I can stay outside and play after 5. And yes, it is in fact National Frozen Food Month (seriously, that's a thing). But most importantly to me, it's one of the best sports months of the entire year. It's March Madness (which if I was president, would be a national holiday)! But more relevant for today's discussion, it's Spring Training. And today I'm talking Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the Cactus League is in full swing.
I just attended Spring Training for the first time last year (crazy, right?!), and am ramping up for my next visit in a few days. And while I could easily do a blog post on each of cities in the greater Phoenix area that host MLB teams in March, today is all about Scottsdale. Partly because it's where I've spent the most time in Phoenix, but also because I think it's one of the American Southwest's raddest cities (and convenient to most of the Spring Training action). And let's be honest, when was the last time you heard someone say, "I'm dying to take a vacation in Peoria." (No offense Peoria!)
Much of the allure of Scottsdale is that it has so much going for it beyond just baseball. If you want something a little more sleepy (and budget-friendly), then a city like Peoria or Mesa can make for a good base camp for a Spring Training trip. Scottsdale, however, answers the question, "What am I supposed to do after the last out?" My favorite part of Scottsdale is Old Town Scottsdale, which is where the city was founded, featuring some of the same buildings from well over a century ago. Old Town retains much of the old charm you'd expect from an American Southwest town. Following baseball games, the streets are packed with fans (of all teams) popping in and out of shops, restaurants, and bars. My favorite Old Town establishment to frequent: Rusty Spur Saloon. One of Scottsdale's oldest bars, it was the city's first saloon. Bring your dancing shoes - there's live music every night! A couple other watering hole favorites include Old Town Tavern and Coach House.
But what I love about Scottsdale is that baseball fan or not, you could spend an entire long weekend here and barely have to get in your car (which comes in handy after a night at the Rusty Spur Saloon). While the greater Phoenix area is incredibly vast and spread out, Scottsdale has several trolley routes, connecting downtown, parking areas, local attractions, and baseball stadiums. Oh, and did I mention that it's free? Other Scottsdale attractions of note: An arts district featuring over 100 galleries, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), Fifth Avenue Shopping District, Scottsdale Fashion Square (featuring nearly 250 retailers), the Food Truck Caravan (Saturday nights), and the Scottsdale Waterfront. What's unique about Scottsdale is some of the urban hiking opportunities that are a short drive from the city, such as Camelback Mountain. Hike Camelback Mountain early in the morning or late in the day (but take plenty of water) and your body will both thank me and you'll be treated to a beautiful sunrise or sunset.
But now to brass tacks: Baseball! First off, this downloadable PDF Scottsdale Spring Training guide is a good start. While 15 MLB teams train in the greater Phoenix area for Spring Training, there's only one stadium in Scottsdale, which is the Giants' home field, Scottsdale Stadium. However, Salt River Fields (Rockies and Diamondbacks), Phoenix Municipal (A's), and Cubs Park (shockingly, home to the Cubs) are all just a few miles away. (The free trolleys provide rides to and from Scottsdale Stadium and Salt River Fields.) Further southwest is Tempe (host to the Angels), while the rest of the Cactus League teams (Indians, White Sox, Dodgers, Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rangers, Royals, and Reds) play west of Phoenix.
While visitors may be able to walk up to the stadium on game day during the week and get tickets, it's recommended to get tickets in advance for weekend games, since they often sell out because the stadiums are so small. Scottsdale Stadium, home to the San Francisco Giants, holds 12,000 people. AT&T Park in San Francisco holds nearly three times as many people. In general, it's best to buy your tickets as far ahead of time as possible if you want to save money, especially since nearly half of the MLB teams have now implemented dynamic pricing, which means that prices can fluctuate over time. Tickets for lawn seats can start for as low as just a few dollars. A lawn seat for the Giants' March 26th weekday afternoon game against the Rockies at 1:05 p.m. is $16. However, only bleacher seats are available for their game Saturday afternoon against the A's for $40 a pop.
When I went to Spring Training last year, I never even made it to the seats I got tickets for. Standing in line for beer often turned into meeting fellow fans and standing with them for most of the game. My recommendation: go for the lawn seats. They are the cheapest seats, allow you to spread out, and double as optimal locale for sun bathing. You may even catch a home run!
Lastly is the question of where to stay. If you're on a budget, Scottsdale may not be for you. This is peak season in Scottsdale (and the entire Phoenix area). If you want to stay on the cheap, you'll have more luck near the Phoenix Airport or Tempe. However, if it's convenience and the experience you're after, then stay in Scottsdale, but be prepared for peak season prices. For example, a city view king room at Joie de Vivre's The Saguaro Hotel is $309 per night the middle of next week. For the same room for the same days on a weekday in June: $118 per night.
Many hotels are doing Spring Training Packages, such as the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia, featuring the "Home Run Package," in which guests receive the fourth night free when they stay three nights, in addition to a $50 credit at Centro, which is one of the resort's dining options. For higher rollers, there's Montelucia's Ultimate Spring Training packages, some of which include game day tickets, hand rolled cigars, poolside cabanas, and a Porsche Panamera rental. Just don't get caught ridin' dirty.
Last year I stayed at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa, which I highly recommend if you think you'll be spending some time at the resort, since it features quite a few amenities that you'd want to take advantage of, such as their spa, pool, and on-site dining, including fine dining restaurant, T. Cook's. I, however, got wrapped up in the $5 happy hour at The Mix Up bar. Poutine and lobster corn dog anyone? Their "Triple Play Package" offers a third night free when booking a two-night Spring Training stay, as well as a $25 credit at T. Cook's and $25 spa credit. For something more budget-friendly, yet boutique, consider the El Dorado. And lastly, there's the Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club, which has a Spring Training Package starting at $199 per night, featuring a $25 food and beverage credit, 10% off spa services, and discounted greens fees at local courses.
There's something timeless about Spring Training. After going for the first time last year, I've often found myself saying that it's professional sports in its purest form. It's an exhibition. No one really cares who wins or loses. No one cares what colors you rock. In fact, rock your colors with pride, no matter where you go, because that person in line for beer that strikes up a conversation with you might just become your new stadium seatmate when the regular season comes around. But don't forget sunscreen. This is the desert after all.