2017 will be my 28th spring training. As a veteran of going to spring games, I thought I’d post some helpful hints for those of you venturing to the Valley of the Sun for the first time.
If you don’t have tickets to games at Sloan Park yet, the good news is that they are still available. For a time, 13 of the 17 games were listed as “sold out.” However, now you’ll note at that link that every game has tickets available... at higher prices. There are still a couple of games where the prices seem reasonable; others will cost you as much as $42 for a lawn ticket, more if you want a seat.
With the Cubs expected to sell out pretty much every game at Sloan Park, seeing them play at one of the other nine spring parks in the Phoenix area is a solid option. You can actually see the Cubs play this spring for as little as $8 (this game at Peoria against the Padres). Lawn tickets for this game against the Diamondbacks at Talking Stick are just $11.
Keep in mind that for most spring games, except maybe for the last week, you will be seeing minor leaguers as much as half of the innings.
Getting to the various spring training parks in the Valley is easy. Most of them are located close to freeway exits and have ample parking. Parking prices range from $10 at Sloan Park (see below, though!) to free at Surprise (spring home of the Rangers and Royals).
In general, no matter what spring park you’re going to, I’d recommend arriving early. Traffic can get backed up near game time at any of these parks. Here’s a map (.pdf) that shows you the locations of all the spring parks in the Valley. You can also run into some traffic at the time an afternoon game lets out (around 4 p.m.), but it’s nothing like Chicago-area traffic.
Apart from Sloan Park, my favorite is Talking Stick, home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies. It’s right off AZ Loop 101 at Via de Ventura and has multiple parking lot entrances. If you check the Talking Stick ballpark map and park nearest the area where your seat is, you’ll get in and out quickly.
Other parks I particularly like are Peoria Stadium (Padres and Mariners) and Surprise Stadium. Both are easy to get in and out of and have varied food choices.
If you’re flying in and don’t have plane reservations by now -- do it quickly, because March is (obviously) high season for trips to Phoenix and prices can be exorbitantly high. If you live in a market served by Southwest, that might be your best bet, as you can always use Southwest travel dollars for up to a year if you have to cancel your flight.
Hotels are, similarly, expensive, and if you don’t already have a reservation, you might be out of luck. There is now a hotel immediately adjacent to Sloan Park, the Sheraton Mesa at Wrigleyville West. I checked some dates during spring training, and most of them are already sold out. There’s also a Hyatt Place hotel at the Mesa Riverview shopping complex across Dobson Road from Sloan Park (east of the park). Some rooms are available there for spring training dates, generally at $250 a night (and up).
If you are renting a car after flying to Phoenix, I’d recommend not doing it at the airport. First, the rental car place is quite a long ride from PHX, and taxes and fees on your car rental at PHX can be more than 30 percent. Take a taxi or the SuperShuttle to your hotel and rent a car near there; there are quite a few in-town car rental agencies (some actually attached to hotels) where you aren’t charged the airport taxes.
Here are some things to do and places to see outside baseball.
There are tons of these in the area and you shouldn’t limit yourself to Mesa, as the area is easy to navigate. The Phoenix area is a grid, with numbered streets (east of the center dividing line, Central Avenue) and numbered avenues (west of Central). Once you learn the main east-west streets, almost any place is easy to find.
Mesa Riverview, as mentioned across Dobson Road from Sloan Park, has quite a few restaurants and bars. One of my favorites there is Matta’s, a family-owned Mexican restaurant with very reasonable prices.
Tempe Marketplace, about a mile and a half west of Sloan Park on Rio Salado Parkway, has a similar selection of restaurants. If you’re missing Chicago while you’re there, Portillo’s has a restaurant at Tempe Marketplace (as well as a location in Scottsdale).
Pro tip: Both Tempe Marketplace and Mesa Riverview will let you park free on Cubs home game days in their huge parking lots and take you to Sloan Park on a free shuttle.
Going farther afield from Mesa, many people stay in or near Old Town Scottsdale, which is kind of kitschy (tourist-style gift shops) in its look back to Scottsdale’s history as an “Old West” town, but also has some excellent restaurants and art galleries, if you’re into such things. My personal restaurant recommendations in or near Old Town:
Old Town Tortilla Factory, 6910 E. Main: Contemporary Mexican. Has a large outdoor patio and the food is reasonably priced. As of the last time I was there (a year ago), they didn’t take reservations for parties of less than six, so go early or be prepared to wait.
Don & Charlie’s, 7501 E. Camelback: The baseball fan’s heaven. You could spend hours in there, as the walls (and ceilings!) are covered with baseball memorabilia and autographed baseballs. Food is old-fashioned Chicago steakhouse style (the founder, Don Carson, grew up in Rogers Park). Many baseball people go here so you could make a celebrity sighting or two. This place is packed all March, so if you want to go, make a reservation early or you will wait up to two hours.
Malee’s Thai Bistro, 7131 E. Main: Some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. It’s not large and also gets very busy, so reserve a table early.
The Sugar Bowl, 4005 N. Scottsdale Road: Old-fashioned ice-cream parlor that’s been in this location since 1958. Bil Keane, creator of the “Family Circus” comic strip, was a longtime resident of Scottsdale and he and his family took a liking to this place. Some signed strips are on the walls.
Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7014 E. Camelback, has several sit-down restaurants as well as a food court and movie theaters.
Pita Jungle is a Phoenix-area chain serving burgers, pizzas and many other types of food in pitas. They have about a dozen locations in the metro area.
If you are into a Vegas-style experience, the Talking Stick Resort (9800 E. Talking Stick Way in Scottsdale) has a full casino and several very good restaurants.
For much more on places in Mesa, you can go to visitmesa.com.
I’m not a golfer. But if you are, there are quite a number of courses open to the public in the area. Some will be expensive. Coronado Golf at 2829 N. Miller in Scottsdale is affordable. McCormick Ranch Golf Club, 7505 E. McCormick Parkway in Scottsdale, has two 18-hole courses. It’s a bit pricey, but the views of Camelback Mountain are pretty spectacular.
Speaking of Camelback Mountain, there are several hiking trails open to the public. Here’s some information on the trails there.
Camelback has a reputation as being a tough climb. Somewhat easier hiking trails are on Piestewa Peak in Phoenix.
The Grand Canyon is worth a visit if you’re coming to Arizona for the first time, or if you’ve been there many times and never seen it. It’s just as impressive as the photos make it appear. Pro tip! Even if it’s 75-80 degrees in the Phoenix area, it will be colder at the Grand Canyon, which resides at about 7,000 feet elevation. Typically in March it’s in the upper 40s or lower 50s during the day. Dress accordingly. The Grand Canyon is about a three-hour drive from the Phoenix area.
If you are into astronomy, the Lowell Observatory is at 1400 W. Mars Hill Road in Flagstaff, two hours’ drive north of Phoenix.
Enjoy your trip... and bring sunscreen. (Trust me on the sunscreen.)