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VOL. 130 | NO. 37 | Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wiedower

Lance Wiedower

Baseball Heaven Found in Phoenix

By Lance Wiedower

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For baseball fans, one of the greatest days is when pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

After a long, cold winter, fans know spring training signifies the start of a new season, not to mention warmer weather is finally near.

Spring training is such an obvious choice for anyone looking to combine sports with travel. Florida and the Grapefruit League, where half of Major League Baseball teams are based, is the older and more traditional option. But the 15 teams are spread throughout central and southern Florida, making the logistics of attending multiple games tough.

My bet for the best bang for your buck is Arizona’s Cactus League, where the 15 teams are in 10 facilities in and around Phoenix. Scottsdale alone is home to three teams, and five of the league’s facilities are shared, meaning more practices and games at each location.

Fans of some of the more tradition-rich teams – Braves, Cardinals, Red Sox and Yankees – will continue attending spring training in Florida. But even the Dodgers, who had what was considered the best spring training facility for decades in Vero Beach, Fla., decided a few years back to pick up and move west.

It’s been a big trend in baseball over the past 20 years. It was the mid-1990s that baseball insiders feared spring training would leave Arizona altogether when only six teams remained. But the pull of new facilities in close proximity brought several teams to the American Southwest.

Cactus League games begin March 3, and there are usually eight or nine played daily. Most games begin at 1:05 p.m., leaving the evening to enjoy the Phoenix nightlife. But there are a few night games to allow the opportunity to either catch two games in a day or possibly get out and experience some of the area’s outdoors before watching night baseball.

And games go through April 4, meaning pretty much every school calendar in the country will have spring break at some point during the Cactus League season.

If You Go: Fly to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, rent a car and find a city to be your home base.

There are fewer teams on the east side of Phoenix, but Scottsdale could be a good hotel base. It has its own nightlife and outdoors activities with Camelback Mountain and isn’t far from the airport.

In addition to being home to the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Giants, Scottsdale is only six miles north of the Angels in Tempe and six miles northwest of the Cubs and Athletics in Mesa.

Facilities are more spread out on the west side of Phoenix, but four of the five are shared by two teams each.

Lance Wiedower can be reached at tripsbylance.com.

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