For the second time in 30 days I find myself in the desert. We are on our way to Scottsdale, AZ to take in a few of the Spring Training games and see some of our favorite sights in the Scottsdale area. I’m excited about the intimate experience that Spring Training camps are known for and the high caliber of competition we will be seeing. It’s that beautiful time of spring when the rosters are that mix of the big leaguers getting in their regular at bats mixed in with high level prospects and invitees getting quality playing time – and that second look before roster decisions are made.
We’ve spent the night on the road and are arriving in Scottsdale early to make the most of our first day. We arrive and pull ourselves together with a stop for Big Breakfast at Freddy’s, known for the fastest breakfast in town. I am happy to discover that it is and a great recommendation by Tommy. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day (and I won’t be any good until I get a cup of coffee in my system and some food in my belly!)
As I’m sipping my second cup of coffee and really getting into the best part of this omelet Tommy is typing away on his phone and he’s making a plan to get in some baseball activity before we get to our first game today. Texts are exchanged and emails are sent. More coffee is consumed and a plan is formulated.
Our next stop is at Scottsdale Stadium, spring training home to the San Francisco Giants. There is no game for the Giants today but the team is scheduled for a full-squad workout. When we arrive Tommy’s good friend is there to receive us at the stadium. After a brief reunion between colleagues we get an impromptu tour of the facility. We walk the concourse and ask for permission to explore and go watch the work out. “Of course,” our host says. “Have fun.” The stadium will be opening up to the public for the workout shortly.
We continue down the main concourse noting the fun details in the stadium from baseball bike racks to the brick “mound” and detailed cement work on the floors and the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame display on the wall. As we round the corner a metal door popped open with a *bang* and an older gentleman wearing a flannel checked shirt tucked in a pair of Dickies emerged. He was moving at a quick clip and moving right toward us. Immediately I was expecting it to be security. We looked up and before I could speak Tommy says, “Good morning Mr. Alou.” My eyes popped open and I said “Good morning sir!”
Now I knew Spring Training was an intimate experience, but casually bumping into a baseball great like Felipe Alou behind the scenes at Giants’ camp was pretty impressive for me! I guess there’s something to be said for good timing.
By the time we make our way around to the right field side, the workout has opened up and there is just over two dozen of the San Francisco faithful there to watch and take in the energy. The morning sun is shining bright and the desert breeze blows softly across the field. Players are taking batting practice. A local reporter is shooting footage for his segment. I could sit for another hour and take it all in, but game time quickly approaches and our next destination is Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
All of the stadiums in the Cactus League are beautiful. The facilities are modern, the fields are pristine. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the newest of 8 stadiums in the area. For the fans of the game that journey into the desert to see their favorite teams and players these stadiums are a sacred place. After a long (and for most – cold) Hot Stove season baseball resumes with bullpen sessions, batting cages, and fielding drills. Bats “crack” and gloves “pop” – all the familiar sensations of our National Pastime come alive. The sun is shining and baseball is in the air. It is not only an intimate experience in scale, where our favorite players prepare themselves for their 2018 journey, we also get a rare and up-close look at the emerging talent looking to break in to the Big Show.
It’s noon and the day is splendid. We’ve splurged on some great seats to watch the Rockies vs the Cubs. As we’re settling in I spot NL West legend Bud Black and with my cold beverage and today’s program in hand I’m ready to sit down and prepare my scorecard. “Scorecard?” you say. Yes, I know it’s only spring training but I’m looking forward to the challenge of scoring a game with so many changes and less-than-textbook plays. As the game progresses the couple to our left see me noting the plays and make sure to take time to make fun of me – twice. I want to say YES I’M A NERD BUT I CAN HIT AT THE CAGES, TOO. With out saying a word, I smile. Oh, those Scottsdale snowbirds.
The last time we’ve seen the Rockies was last October in the 2017 NL wildcard game. They were returning to the post season coming into a matchup that put them against the Arizona Diamondbacks, which you may remember was an epic battle to an 11-8 final and a win for Arizona.
The visiting Cubs kick off the action in the top of the first when lead off hitter Ian Happ doubles. He advances to third on an Anthony Rizzo at bat and when the designated hitter Addison Russell comes to the plate he drives Happ in to put the Cubs on the board. The action is quickly countered when, in the bottom of that inning after an Ian Desmond strikeout, DJ Lemahieu singles. With a man on first Charlie (the Lumberjack a.k.a. Chuck Nasty) Blackmon drives the first pitch he sees over the wall to make the game 2-1 Rockies. This is going to be a beautiful day.
It’s nearing the end of our day. The Padres have played the Royals today as well, and as our day begins to wind down, Tommy wants to take me somewhere I haven’t been before. He takes me to a local favorite, Don and Charlie’s. Owned by Don Carson, it’s worth noting that the Charlie in “Don and Charlie’s” is the noted chef and restauranteur Charlie Trotter of the legendary Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. It’s a must-see for any baseball fan visiting the area. Besides the great food and staff, they house one of the most impressive collections of sports memorabilia around. Before we make it past the crowded entry, I can’t take my eyes off of the wall to my left.
Spring Training has brought us here to ponder the future and get a glimpse of what’s to come, but this moment allows me to look back at generations of great baseball that came before. I am greeted by names like Chuck Finley, Dusty Baker, Gaylord Perry, Eddy Stanky, Greg Olson, Tug McGraw, Bo Jackson, and Billy Pierce. It’s a long look back and one that whets my appetite for more.