Sports-Glutton.com’s resident baseball writer, Bill Hodges, will be covering this year’s sights and sounds of Cactus League play in Arizona.
For a baseball enthusiast like me, it doesn’t get much better than a weekend in Arizona for Spring Training. It is a unique experience unlike any other that delivers on so many levels – pristine weather, great food and drink, golf, camaraderie among buddies, and of course, lots of baseball. There’s a reason why the Cactus League set an all-time attendance record in 2011 with nearly 1.6 million people attending games over a one-month period. People love March in Arizona.
When I made my first road trip to Spring Training while in college, I remember concerning myself only with how many games I was going to attend, if I would survive a week-long steady diet of beer and hot dogs and where I was going to sleep. I suppose I also wanted to see country star Garth Brooks play left field for the San Diego Padres. Remember that?
A lot has changed in the 12 years since then, yet a lot hasn’t changed. Certainly, my diet has improved since that first Spring Training trip, or at least I tell myself it has. My sleeping arrangements are thought out well in advance. I can afford to fly to Phoenix instead of making a 13-hour drive from Sacramento. And of course the golf outings are well coordinated. These are all changes for the better.
The one thing that hasn’t changed though is the number of games I take in. Over the years, it has been fairly typical to watch anywhere between five and seven games in four days. It’s a schedule that would not appeal to someone who likes baseball let alone a casual baseball fan. It’s hardcore. I’ve heard a rumor that our group is going attempt to do less baseball this year and perhaps go out to dinner one night or spend time relaxing by the pool (have we gotten old, or what?). I’ll believe it when I see it, because at Spring Training, there is always a baseball game to see and how can you resist? Which gets me thinking…
Why do people come from around the United States to embark on the same annual trip as I do? Why do I study the Spring Training schedule to determine how many games I can squeeze in during the weekend?
I believe one of the main answers is that baseball is an obsession. Baseball fans obsess about stats, in-game strategy, their team’s farm system, historical plays and players; the list goes on and on. Baseball is our National Pastime and the game has a certain mystique to it that fosters such passion and obsession among its fans.
But it’s also about bonding and fellowship. For some, it is their annual trip to spend time with their father or grandfather taking in their shared love for the game. I’ve met people over the years that attend Spring Training because its tradition and their dad used to take them every year…now they are giving their kids the same experience. For me, it’s bonding with pals. And it’s not limited to just men. I know a group of women who make the annual Spring Training trek to take in the games and enjoy Arizona in March. Baseball, in many ways, is a gift that is constantly being enjoyed amongst friends or handed down from generation to generation.
I love Spring Training for all these reasons, but I also love it for its simpler nuances. The crack of the bat, the smell of ballpark peanuts and dogs, a hit-and-run, a sacrifice bunt putting a player in scoring position, an umpire punching someone out (figuratively speaking), a head-first slide and of course, a towering home-run.
Over the course of the next week, my goal is to bring you some of the sights, sounds and experiences of Spring Training 2012. This includes reviews on everything to best ballpark experiences; best food, bars, golf courses, lodging options; what to avoid; and whatever unexpected events that may transpire. Believe me, there is always a comedic story to share on the “did that really happen?” scale.
At the very least, my hope is that you’ll enjoy reading the posts that follow. Maybe they will even inspire those of you who have considered making the trip to Spring Training to finally do so. All I know is that my Spring Training adventure starts in two days. I can hardly wait.
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