March 12, 2009
I first came to Angels spring training by accident.
When a cancelled flight left our group "stranded" at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, U.S. Airways put us up in a local hotel for the night. The next day, a quick check of the morning news showed that our Angels were in town, so we told our bosses we'd be on vacation for an extra day and hustled to the park.
A new tradition was born.
Whether you're taking your first spring training trip to Tempe or your 15th, the following guide may provide you with a new insight to make the journey even more enjoyable.
1. Location history with the Angels
Located just off I-10 at 2200 W. Alameda Drive, Diablo Stadium was originally constructed in 1968.
In 1993, the Angels made Tempe their official home-away-from-home after spending the previous three decades bouncing between training facilities in Palm Springs and Holtville, Calif., as well as Casa Grande, Ariz.
2. Park history
Newsweek named Tempe Diablo Stadium the country's best ballpark for spring training in 2003, and that was before the stadium's big renovation in 2005.
It's no wonder the Angels subsequently extended their lease until 2025—the $20-million overhaul before the 2006 season added practice fields, revamped seating, and expanded training facilities for both major and minor league club use.
Tempe Diablo Stadium's recently renovated facade makes it clear which team it houses from the moment you arrive. The giant, haloed "A" sits atop the new look building, and rows of palm trees welcome Southern Californians with a familiar (albeit ocean-less) feel.
3. The area
Tempe is a college town, home to both Arizona State University and its Sun Devil Stadium.
Fourteen teams train in Phoenix and Tucson, and they make up Arizona's Cactus League. The league's jam-packed scrimmage schedule begins the last week of February and continues throughout the entire month of March.
This spring, there are several can't-miss matches on the Angels schedule.
The battle for the AL West begins when the Athletics arrive in Tempe on March 15, and fans can preview the upcoming season's Freeway Series when the Dodgers visit on March 23.
4. Memorable spring training moments
Fun fans and good people make spring training memorable.
After we "accidentally" ended up at spring training that first day, we continued to get luckier and luckier: Fellow fans offered us 2-for-1 tickets, tailgaters asked us to take a case of beer off their hands, and ushers even tipped us off to prime, empty seats behind the Angels dugout.
Then we witnessed a Vlad homer, a Tori Hunter homer, and an ultimate Angels win.
Needless to say, spring training had us hooked.
The best way to get an autograph is to hang out at the practice field and be polite. The players take their pregame warm-ups on the field just off the parking lot, and even the biggest players are often surprisingly accessible to fans.
I've seen the most autographs given as the players leave the practice field to prepare for the game, so arrive early to secure a choice spot along the fence (and don't forget to bring a pen!).
6. What to eat
Ballpark grub at Tempe Diablo Stadium is standard. Your best bet is a hot dog and a cold beer or soda. However, bringing your own food and water into the stadium is allowed, so don't hesitate to brown-bag it and save a few bucks for a nice meal after the game.
Outside the park, it's hard to go wrong in choosing a place. Casey Moore's Oyster House (www.caseymoores.com) is a local favorite. Located just three miles northeast of the ballpark, Casey's scrumptious oysters, excellent beer selection, and refreshing outdoor seating are tough to beat.
The Tempe Improv (www.tempeimprov.com) is a comedy club with surprisingly tasty food, and it's ideal for fans looking for a more entertaining dining experience after the game.
Rula Bula (www.rulabula.com) is an Irish pub on Mill Avenue with affordable dishes, a spacious patio, and many traditional beers on tap.
7. Where to stay
Our free travel vouchers led us to the Hampton Inn Phoenix Airport North (602-267-0606) on that fortunate night our flight was cancelled.
However, it's a fine choice even when footing your own bill. For just over $100 per night, you get a clean, comfortable room, a complimentary hot breakfast and a free 24-hour airport shuttle.
The shuttle driver even dropped us off at the ballpark at no charge when he had a few minutes to spare (See? It never hurts to ask. Just don't forget to tip!).
If you prefer to be closer to the park and don't mind paying a bit more, try The Buttes Resort (602-225-9000). The Buttes is the closest hotel to the ballpark (they actually share the same property).
Rates start as low as $170 on weekends, but beware: They can soar as high as $300 on busy weekdays when business travelers fill the hotel.
8. What to do when not watching a game
The Mill Avenue District in downtown Tempe boasts fine dining, museums, boutique shops, big brand stores and art galleries.
Located a few blocks from the Arizona State University campus, Mill Avenue features a casual daytime atmosphere and a vibrant night life, especially in the spring.
Parents and college-aged kids (as well as older folks who still feel like they're in college) shouldn't miss the chance to tour Arizona State University. While on campus, enjoy lunch or a late night snack at Four Peaks Brewing Company, or try a $3 happy-hour beer special.
Between its warm weather and friendly atmosphere, Tempe is a refreshing spot to unwind.
The Phoenix area is home to some of the nation's finest golf courses, including the gorgeous Raven Golf Course at South Mountain, and the affordable Vistal Golf Club, where rates start at just $25.
Throughout the year, the shops, spas and wines of Tempe keep me wishing for a cancelled flight every time I lay over at the Phoenix Airport.
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