As expected, my annual trip to Arizona for Spring Training did not disappoint. It was an amazing weekend full of baseball, golf, food and libations, and of course, the usual shenanigans. There’s more to come on the tomfoolery later, but just know that a Spring Training trip for our group isn’t complete without it (for better or worse).
I frequently get asked why I go to Spring Training year-after-year, and my answer is always the same – because it’s simply one of the greatest events any sports fan can experience (especially baseball aficionados). I love hearing the crack of the bat, the smell of hot dogs and watching vendors hawk peanuts and beer. I relish in the opportunity to hang out with friends, play golf and share some laughs.
As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re a baseball fan and have never been to Spring Training, you must do it. I mean, even if you’re a casual baseball or sports fan, I would still say that it’s worth going, as it offers such a variety of things to do and experience.
Below are some thoughts and observations pulled from this year’s trip. If after reading this you’re craving more stories or reviews, I encourage you to visit the Spring Training series (Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3) I wrote last year that chronicled my trip.
One of the highlights for me this year was watching baseball in more intimate venues. While all the ballparks are much smaller in comparison to what teams normally play in, there are a handful of facilities such as Scottsdale Stadium (Giants), Maryvale Baseball Park (Brewers) and Tempe Diablo Stadium (Angels) that offer more of a throwback experience compared to some of the newer Spring Training ballparks (e.g., Camelback Ranch Stadium in Glendale).
For Scottsdale Stadium and Tempe Diablo Stadium, unless you’re willing to spend some serious cash to sit in the infield, sitting on the lawn is your best value. Similarly, Maryvale Park doesn’t have the same draw as the other two parks, so you can usually buy a lawn seat for $8 and sit almost anywhere.
My only regret is that I wasn’t paying as close attention to the games as I should have while I was there. In my defense (as history has proved), the games have a tendency to take a backseat to great weather, food and drink, people watching and story telling. Each year, I tell myself I’m going to pay more attention to baseball, yet it never happens. I can always try again next year, right?
I don’t think I ever stopped eating during Spring Training, but when I eventually did and took time to reflect, a couple of items stood out. For a second consecutive year, the Bratwurst at the Brewers game won out. It all starts with a Bratwurst on a fresh roll, smothered in spicy mustard and topped with sauerkraut. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s oh so good.
The runner up to the Bratwurst were the nachos at Devil’s Advocate in Tempe. The nachos included freshly made tortilla chips, beans, Mexican blend cheeses, chicken, Devil’s homemade queso and topped with tomatoes, green onions and black olives. It’s definitely what you’d find in most nachos, but I’m telling you, the taste was on a different level. Speaking of Devil’s Advocate, they have the best happy hour of any bar in the greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area that we’ve ever come across. It was a great place to watch college basketball in between soaking in the desert sun.
Finally, as expected, we missed out on trying a steakhouse in Scottsdale (everyone agreed it WILL happen in 2014), but we did enjoy an awesome dinner at Bandera. The ambiance at Bandera is fairly upscale (white linens and candlelight), low-lit, large comfortable booths and definitely LOUD. It’s always a happening scene with abundant people watching opportunities. The menu is simple straight forward Americana at its finest with a few twists (click here to view the menu). My selection for the evening the Pan-Seared Ahi Tuna with firecracker sauce, mixed greens, avocado and mango, which was a nice change of pace from all the ballpark food. Additionally, we made the usual stops at Salty Senorita and R n R. Both are a must before or after any Giants game (you can read my reviews of all three restaurants from last year by clicking here.
This year, our golf outing was at Encanto Golf Course in Phoenix, which was definitely a departure from the resort golf courses we typically play. While it lacked the feel and amenities that you would get at a resort course such as Talking Stick (e.g., perfectly manicured and sanded bunkers, free range balls), the price was right ($57 with a cart), the greens were in good shape and it was flat and wide open. After a long night bar hopping in Tempe, it was probably the only course we could have handled.
Because you can pay as little as $50 and as much as $400 for a round of golf in Arizona, it’s important to gauge early on how serious you and/or your buddies are going to take it. For example, we knew we were going to go out on the town the night before golf, so we booked a cheap, forgiving course. It would have been a miserable experience had we been playing PGA Scottsdale Stadium, which is very difficult and expensive ($350 per round).
Where else except maybe Vegas can someone in your group lose the keys to the rental car, their hat, a single flip flop and an iPhone all in one evening? How many trips have you been on where another friend (who came to Arizona in a walking cast on his right leg) proceeds to break his left leg (and I mean literally)? And how could I not mention my favorite pick-up line my buddy used over the weekend – “You’re the most beautiful girl in Scottsdale.” How did that line fall on deaf ears?
So yeah, the shenanigans were at an all-time high, but it provided so much material to reminisce over for years to come.
It may be hard to believe, but I can hardly wait for next year. Until Spring Training 2014…
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