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Al's Arizona Spring Training Travel Guide

About to return to Chicago, I thought I'd give a quick ranking guide to the seven spring training parks in the Phoenix area, and a little bit about each one. I've talked about each park in the daily reports, but here's a summary of everything, for anyone who's thinking about such a trip next March -- and I'd highly recommend it for any baseball fan.

1) Surprise Stadium, Surprise, Rangers & Royals This ballpark vaults to the top rank in its very first year. Despite its way-out-of-the-way location, it's well designed, feeling both intimate and spacious; has a JumboTron, but also plenty of room for kids to run around on the grass; a good food selection and reasonable prices; and the friendliest staff anywhere in the Cactus League. Don't miss this gem.

2) Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria, Padres & Mariners It's surprising to find such a variety of food and well-designed ballpark in the middle of what must be one of the largest concentration of strip-mall chain stores in America, but that's what they've made here at Peoria. There are tons of food stands; you can get rice bowls, fajitas, Philly cheesesteaks, or conventional ballpark fare. They've also got a great selection of souvenirs, though all Padre or Mariner related, and they put it on sale the last few days of spring training. Seating is excellent, and the prices are among the lowest in Arizona.

3) Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, Giants This is an intimate ballpark, as even the lawn seats seem close to the action; there are also, unlike the other parks, shade trees on the lawn in case you don't want full sun all day, a nice touch. The Giants have an enormous selection of souvenirs, big enough for a tent under the stands; when I went in it was so crowded you could barely move past the exit for all the people buying stuff -- all Giants-related, unfortunately. There's a similar amount of food stands to Peoria, and I like the concourse, which is open on the back side so you get light coming through even when under the seats. Tickets are a bit pricey -- highest priced lawn seats in the Cactus League.

4) Maryvale Baseball Park, Phoenix, Brewers Overlooked by many for two reasons -- first, the Brewers just don't draw that many, and it's also not in the best part of town -- this is a little gem tucked away behind strip malls. It's got easily accessible practice fields for watching BP or minor league games, and every seat's a good one, and there's almost always good seats available. Staff here was also very friendly.

5) Tempe Diablo Stadium, Tempe, Angels Just because this is two rungs lower than Scottsdale, doesn't mean it's much worse -- these last three are all pretty close in amenities, sightlines, etc. They added a grass berm here in the last few years and it's one of the nicer ones. Souvenirs here often include stuff for the visiting team, and I've bought things here that I couldn't find elsewhere in the Cactus League. It's a little hard to find and as I mentioned when I went there, the Tempe police were ill-prepared for the traffic of a sellout crowd. Until this year, they haven't had to worry about that, but with the Angels being defending World Champions, that's brought a ton more red-clad Anaheim fans to Arizona.

6) Phoenix Municipal Stadium, A's Originally built in 1964 for the then Triple-A Giants, later the Firebirds, this stadium doesn't have a lot of the amenities of the newer parks, like a grass berm. Nevertheless, the friendly staff tries to make up for the ugly concrete construction with some of the lower prices and better souvenirs of the Cactus League. Sightlines here are probably the best of any of the ballparks, due to its somewhat smaller design. I'm basing this on my visit there last year; I didn't get to Phoenix Muni this year, and there were supposedly some improvements made to it.

7) HoHoKam Park, Mesa, Cubs And it's not even close, and that's really sad. The HoHoKams made several mistakes in the design, first of all -- it's the largest park in the Cactus League, seating almost 13,000, and that takes away intimacy. Half of the grass berm in right field is behind a sidewalk, making sightlines lousy. The lower concourse isn't open, meaning when you go under the stands from the seats, it's extremely dark. The HoHoKams themselves have always given me the impression that they were doing me a favor by being there; they seem very unfriendly compared to some of the other civic groups who help run spring training parks, notably the new one in Surprise. I talked earlier about the concession and food problems at HoHoKam, which may be corrected in a couple of years. What's good about Mesa? Well, the LF berm seats give a pretty good view; it's easy to get in and out of the parking lot (at least when it's not raining!), and of course, you're in the company of fellow Cubs fans.

Nevertheless, I always enjoy my travels in the Phoenix area to spring training parks. Perhaps next year, a trip to Tucson to see the two parks there.

And now, let the season begin!