So you’re heading to Spring Training 2009 and you can’t stop daydreaming about the crack of the bat, the anticipation of your first glimpse of the next Ken Griffey Jr. and the refreshing feeling of that first cold beer going down the pipes.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably got each game (and beer) planned but have yet to figure out the rest of your trip. This could be a guys’ weekend or a romantic getaway with a little baseball thrown in. No matter what the occasion, we have all the tips you need to make your Oakland A’s Spring Training experience a memorable one.
The A’s play their spring games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which opened its doors in 1965. Like many traditional spring training stadiums, Phoenix Municipal lacked many of the comforts found at regular Major League ballparks.
Fortunately, a 2005 renovation not only added more comfortable seating, but a variety of different areas to picnic, take a break from the sun and buy artery-clogging ballpark food.
The A’s brought their Spring Training show to the Arizona in the Spring of 1969. They played in Mesa, and Scottsdale before settling in Phoenix in 1984. In the years to follow, greats like Mark McGwire and Dennis Eckersley would grace the diamond at Phoenix Municipal while becoming the core of an Oakland team that fought their way to three consecutive World Series appearances.
Spring training games are all about hot dogs, burgers and cold beer. You’re best bet at Phoenix Municipal is a char-grilled hamburger from “the” concession stand that you will find by walking to the end of the left field line. Grab your grub and relax on the grass overlooking left field and the A’s bullpen.
For the autograph enthusiast, there’s no place like Spring Training to meet your heroes or to see the sparkle in your kid’s eyes as they meet theirs. There are three key spots you need to know to put yourself ahead of all the other Hancock seekers. First, get to the stadium early and position yourself near the corner of either dugout or near the bullpens.
Second, during the game, players often gather on the secondary field behind right field. If you get an outfield seat near the right field corner, you can grab autographs from the players on the practice field and from the visiting team’s bullpen. But the best, most fool-proof way to get autographs: find out at which hotel your favorite team is staying.
Believe it or not, there is life outside Phoenix Municipal during Spring Training. There is no shortage of hotels, resorts, motels and spas from which to choose during your stay in Arizona. For those on a budget, check out the Embassy Suites in Phoenix, which is only about a mile from the ballpark. For a bit more than a clean bed and a continental breakfast, yet still within the workin’ man’s budget, I recommend the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort which has a few nice restaurants and great pool for relief from the desert heat.
If your last name is Holliday or you happen to have Scott Boras on speed dial, it would behoove you to book yourself a room at the Biltmore, the Westin Kierland or the ever-popular Phoenician. These luxury hot spots have turned pampering into an art form and are sure to make you forget all about the 7th hot dog you ate.
You’ll have to eat outside of the stadium at some point (unfortunately you can’t live on hot dogs and nachos for an entire weekend). For the casual diner, El Loco Patron features Mexican fare, margaritas and trucker hat-wearing L.A. wanna-be’s with level three spray tans (but you can’t beat the salsa, but be warned – have water ready for this fiery concoction).
Venture a little further up Scottsdale Boulevard and you’ll come to Sapporo. A fantastic pairing of a hip sushi joint with trendy nightclub, this unassuming-by-day hot spot is a must see while you’re in Phoenix. If you’re coming from anywhere but California, In & Out Burger is MUST—Period. For the health conscious, check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s True Food Kitchen in the Biltmore Fashion Plaza.
If you have only one night (and a little extra in the budget), take the winding drive up Camelback Mountain to The Sanctuary Resort and Spa. Perched on the side of the mountain, you can watch a picturesque sunset over Paradise Valley from Elements, a contemporary American restaurant.
Whether your visit includes a drink on the patio or dinner and desert, your experience is sure to become a part of your Spring Training memory forever. (So memorable in fact that I proposed to my fiancée on this very patio.)
Phoenix and the surrounding area abound with things to do. If you are a golfer, you could spend every morning and afternoon playing new courses. A personal favorite, the Silverado Golf Club, is a great desert course at an even better price. (For you amateur golfers, all holes dog-leg right, perfect for your slice.)
For the outdoor enthusiast, take a hike up Camelback Mountain. Whether you are looking for a leisurely stroll or a Mission Impossible hike, Camelback Mountain offers it all. From its peak, you can see the entire valley while breathing the uncommonly fresh air. The Phoenix Zoo offers a great place to take a family. If you have not had enough sports after a day at the ballpark, Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns offer an entertaining change of pace.
Whether you are looking for a quiet drink after dinner or a full-blown nightclub, Phoenix offers both and everything in between. Axis/Radius in Scottsdale is one of the oldest nightclubs while remaining one of the most popular. A younger crowd surrounds Arizona State University in Tempe. You can take a stroll through Scottsdale’s fashion square and grab an outdoor table at Olive and Ivy, a popular restaurant/bar on the Scottsdale Waterfront.
Spring Training memories are made from small, intimate ballparks that make your heroes seem larger than life. They are family moments sitting in the grass beyond the outfield fence and the joy on your child’s face as they run back to your seats with a baseball covered with autographs. Whether you see the next Jason Giambi or the next Todd Van Poppel (A’s fans cringe), Spring Training is baseball at it’s purest.
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