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Lookout Landing’s Guide to Spring Training 2019: where to stay, what to eat, how to not get sunburned

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Get in, losers, we’re going to Spring Training

Seattle Mariners v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Spring Training is a great time to bliss out on meaningless baseball while replenishing your winter-depleted store of Vitamin D, but if you’ve never been, the prospect of planning a trip can feel overwhelming (and expensive). We at Lookout Landing are here to help by offering our best tips and tricks for getting the most out of your Spring Training experience. Last year we published this guide in late February, which is honestly too late to be thinking about Spring Training unless you have deep pockets and very flexible plans. This year, we are delivering the goods to you early so you can start planning your trip ASAP, especially considering this year’s chopped and screwed remix of a spring training schedule.

Getting there:

Flights are cheapest in February and in the early weeks of March, before spring break heats up. Southwest has some of the lowest prices on a consistent basis with plenty of flight options, but don’t overlook Alaska. Keep in mind you might be better off getting two one-way tickets on different airlines than a single round-trip ticket, and don’t shy away from early morning or late night flights; they’re often cheaper than midday. If you’re coming from Seattle the flight is short enough that taking a layover isn’t so bad, and the Sacramento airport has a place to get really good garlic knots if you don’t care about your fellow passengers.

Getting around:

Unless you’re going for just a weekend and staying right near a spring training complex, you probably need to rent a car. Phoenix does have a light rail which is super-convenient, provided you want to travel in a straight line from Mesa to Glendale and nowhere else. The light rail runs frequently, is clean and cheap, and does have a stop at the airport, which is convenient if you want to get closer to your endpoint and save on an Uber. Beyond that you get into the bus system, which is inscrutable. Uber/Lyft are both plentiful and relatively cheap, but you’re probably better off renting a car if you’re flying solo, plan to visit a few different locations a day, or plan to stay for any significant length of time. Renting a car can carry a hefty price tag and availability can be tight; check out the app Turo, which is like Airbnb but for cars, and will usually be cheaper than commercial car rental, because you’re renting directly from a person and often renting a slightly older vehicle than most commercial fleets. The lowest rate I (Kate) saw when looking around this past weekend was 20 bucks a day for a 2014 Yaris, plus fees (which are still nowhere near the bananapants litany of fees charged by commercial car companies).

NB: Maricopa County patrols very enthusiastically for drunk drivers. The penalties are stiff, and the law enforcement is out en masse for spring training/spring breakers. Also, beyond tickets, if you drink and drive you are putting both your life and the lives of all in your vicinity in danger and you should, you know, not do that. Couple this with a wide availability of alcohol for cheap (including drive-through liquor stores!), and it’s a perfect storm for messing up bad. If you plan on drinking, even a little, plan on taking a taxi or rideshare, or look up your public transport options well in advance.

Where to stay:

The greater Phoenix area offers a wide variety of options for housing, although the rates are sky-high for spring training. Airbnb is the cheapest way to go depending on how flexible you are; you’ll pay the least for a room in someone’s house, often with a shared bath situation. Things book up quickly so the bigger your party, the earlier you’ll want to get started. For a longer trip, consider splitting it up among different properties if you’re having trouble finding one that’s available for the entire duration of your stay.

I (Ben) am an autograph and a baseball enthusiast, so I go to Spring Training as often as I can. After a couple years of trying out different hotels in different parts of Arizona and varying levels of safety (I’m looking at you Guadalupe), our little Spring Training group has found a nice haven at a good rate in Talking Stick Resort. The resort has a ton of bar and restaurant options, as well as a decent sized casino, cigar bar, and of course, a couple of large, bougie outdoor pools and hot tubs complete with a nice outdoor bar and televisions for your March Madness viewing pleasure. Another perk of Talking Stick Resort that might apply to a small facet of our readers: they host a pair baseball-themed country concerts called the “Country Double Header” featuring some fairly noteworthy country artists, although they typically announce the artists and dates too close to Spring Training to plan your trip around it. As far as price goes, we booked back in November through Travelocity and were able to get round-trip airfare (from Spokane) and four nights at the resort for roughly $550/person.

Spring Training Complexes/Cities:

Peoria (Mariners, Padres):

Unless you harbor a great passion for chain restaurants and big box stores, Peoria doesn’t have too much else going for it. The upside is the Peoria Sports Complex (PSC) is one of the better complexes in the Cactus League, with a few interesting food options in tents on the main concourse, beer gardens featuring local brews, a nice berm for rolling around on, and reasonably-priced seats, including some in the shade. The Mariners’ dugout is along the third base line. Check out the tables in the main concourse where items autographed by Mariners players are often available to bid on, with the proceeds going to a local charity. The PSC is probably the kid-friendliest complex in the Cactus League, with the wiffle ball field, a speed pitch station, an inflatable “home run derby,” and a dedicated play structure shaped like a giant pirate ship for kids to play on with a water feature included for those hot days. (Be warned, however, that the location of the structure means you won’t be able to see the game.)

You can buy your ticket with a “craft beer upgrade” for $20 that will give you tickets for four 12-oz pours of whatever specialty brews they have that day; selections change every couple of days, and must be obtained from the craft beer tent, which is shoved into a weird little corner by the front gates on the first base line. Lines can be long at peak games and cause you to miss a fair amount of the action, so go early on busy nights. The craft beer upgrade can be purchased in advance or separately at a ticket window at the complex.

If you’re going specifically to see the Mariners, don’t mind eating at chain restaurants, and don’t plan to go anywhere other than the PSC, the La Quinta is pricey but literally steps from the complex, and since the Mariners host some of the younger prospects there, you might run into a player now and then. There are a few other hotels in the P83 complex within walking distance of the PSC, as well. If you are driving, parking in the complex is plentiful and will usually run you five bucks. If you get there early to watch team workouts and stay up to game time, you probably won’t have to pay anything.

There is one exception to the “Peoria has meh food” rule, according to Kate, and it is Revolu Taqueria, which is conveniently located right by the complex, steps away from the back fields where the minor leaguers play. The drinks are good, with fresh ingredients, the fish tacos are great, and the service is friendly. Connor wants to give Headquarters, AZ, a shoutout. Literally across the street from the PSC, it boasts a solid happy hour and a truly diverse menu, including sushi that is “pretty good by Arizona standards.”

Glendale (White Sox, Dodgers):

Distance to the PSC: 20 minutes

Camelback Ranch is one of the nicer complexes for ST, although it will cost you in both inflated ticket prices (because DODGERS) and higher parking costs. The second-largest stadium in the Cactus League, Camelback seats 13,000, with 3,000 berm seating. Catch a day game here to really appreciate the green-ness of Camelback, one of the circuit’s more aesthetically appealing stadia, but beware: there is very little shade to be found anywhere in the ballpark. Bring sunscreen, and apply copiously.

Camelback is technically in Phoenix, although Glendale owns the land. As a city, Glendale is a little cooler than Peoria, mostly because instead of big box stores it’s strip malls. Sahuaro Ranch is a historic park that was one of the first agricultural outposts in Arizona. It’s free to visit and located next to a park with a great kids’ play area, making for a very edu-taining outing. Also there are peacocks! Glendale also has a slightly more diverse mix of restaurants to choose from vs. Peoria, like the the Spicery, a legit tea-and-crumpets lunch and high tea place located in a historic house that looks like it was shipped straight over from jolly old England, or a surprisingly rich Mediterranean/Middle Eastern vein of restaurants (I enjoyed the shwarma at Pita Kabob, but heard good things about Sinbad’s). Glendale also got a Topgolf recently, which is located near the stadium district, near where the Cardinals and Coyotes play.

Goodyear (Reds, Cleveland):

Distance to the PSC: 30 minutes

Despite being built in the last decade, Goodyear is one of the more humble complexes, and the food and drink options in the stadium aren’t great. However, ticket prices and parking are reasonable, and there’s some wild art outside of the stadium as well as an airplane graveyard across the highway visible on the drive in. Goodyear’s “attractions,” such as they are, include the aforementioned plane boneyard and a deteriorating historic train station (there was also a deteriorating racetrack, but that was demolished in 2017). Goodyear is a place to visit, not stay; drop in for a game and stop by nearby Saddle Mountain Brewing before or after for beer and food of a much higher quality than what’s available at the stadium. For people with kids, there’s both a wiffle ball field and inflatables to entertain the little ones.

Mesa (Cubs, Athletics):

Distance to the PSC: an hour or more

The Cubs and Athletics used to share HoHoKam Stadium, but in 2015 the Cubs moved out on their own to Sloan Park, designed by well-known firm Populous. Sloan Park is the biggest stadium in the Cactus League, at 15,000 seats, although the berm is much smaller than Camelback’s. Since lawn seating is the cheapest option for ST tickets, be prepared: a trip to Sloan Park can be costly. The games consistently set Cactus League attendance records, and there’s even a waiting list for season tickets to the park. There is a trolley that runs from nearby Mesa Riverview and Tempe Marketplace shopping centers. Sloan Park also was the first ballpark in the Cactus League to hook on to the food truck trend, and there’s a dedicated area of the stadium for them near the right-field fence.

HoHoKam got a facelift from Populous at about the same time Sloan Park was being built, but that didn’t do too much to improve the aesthetics of what is one of the Cactus League’s more mediocre ballparks. There is plenty of parking, although be advised there’s a “decent” hill to walk up if parked in overflow parking, which may be an accessibility concern. HoHoKam boasts the Cactus League’s biggest scoreboard, although with a lack of any pitch data, one wonders what the point of all that real estate is.

I (Kate) haven’t made it here yet, but if I make it to Mesa this year I am going to insist on dragging my companions to eat at Zur Kate, founded thirty years ago by a German expatriates and now owned by another German expatriate who moved to Mesa because he wanted to be a cowboy. German food in the desert sounds weird, but a giant tankard of German beer sounds like a great way to cool down after baking in the Arizona sun all day.

Phoenix (Brewers):

Distance to the PSC: 30 minutes (or more, with traffic)

Downtown Phoenix and its environs isn’t quite the sanitized experience of some of the other spring training cities (as noted, Ben did not enjoy his time in Guadalupe), but If you’re looking for a city experience and don’t care about driving a little longer to get to some of the other complexes, staying around downtown is the move. Maryvale, one of the “urban villages” within the city of Phoenix, is actually a little closer to Glendale and Camelback Ranch, but has a strong Latino community. Ironically, getting good Mexican food can be a challenge in the Phoenix area, but Maryvale boasts plenty of taco trucks, eloteros (street vendors selling Mexican-style street corn among other things), and sit-down restaurants.

A little ways from the stadium, Encanto Park in Phoenix has a golf course and a small, inexpensive amusement park that’s great for little kids; there’s also the Phoenix Children’s Museum, and, a little further out, the Phoenix Zoo. Tacos Huicho, a fifteen-minute drive from the stadium, has some of the best al pastor Kate has ever had; go on a weekend to get it freshly spit-roasted and covered in fresh pineapple. Eric swears by La Santisima Taco Shop, also a 15-minute drive from the stadium in downtown Phoenix, for their unbelievably good Mexican food featuring stuffed quesadillas, which are loaded from everything to carne asada to shrimp and other deliciousness. Also nearby is Chino Bandito, which is, well, just take a look. And if the Shake Shack lines for the new Seattle location overwhelm you, there are two locations in Spring Training country: one in Fashion Square, the mall in Scottsdale, and another in downtown Phoenix.

Scottsdale (Giants; Rockies/Diamondbacks):

Distance to the PSC: 45 minutes (Scottsdale Stadium); 35 minutes (Salt River Fields at Talking Stick)

There’s a reason most Mariners prospects who stay year-round in Arizona choose to live in Scottsdale, despite its distance from the PSC: Scottsdale has hands-down the best nightlife and dining options of any of the cities in the Valley. The downside is attending games at Scottsdale Stadium can be a pain; Giants fans descend upon the Phoenix area in droves, and ticket prices can be as much (or more!) than a major-league game. The stadium is also crowded right into downtown Scottsdale, making parking options essentially non-existent. There are plenty of golf carts zipping around to catch a ride on, however, and you can also take a rideshare right up to the stadium gates. There’s also a free downtown trolley that will take you to the stadium. Once you’re inside, the food and drink options are probably the best in the entire Cactus League, but there is very little shaded seating, and you will get a nasty sunburn from the reflection of the metal bleachers if you aren’t careful. There’s also not too much for kids to do other than watch the game, so if you have a wriggler, know that there’s a strong possibility you’ll have paid upwards of thirty dollars per person to see part of a semi-pro baseball game and most likely get a really bad sunburn. If you do go, grab a bite to eat first at Craft 64, an upscale pizza joint (the fig and bacon pizza is to die for) with a nice selection of craft beers that’s within walking distance of the stadium, and set aside some time to explore Old Town Scottsdale, which has the best density of good bars and restaurants in the Phoenix area, along with boutiques, art galleries, antique stores, and other places to drop some cash.

The nicest stadium in the Cactus League is Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, which has the feel of a major-league stadium combined with the intimacy of the spring training experience. Food and drink options are plentiful, including some very good barbecue, and there’s both an expansive grassy berm and the most plentiful shade of any ST complex. There’s also a nice wiffle ball field for kids, although it’s a little removed from the action. If you take Ben’s advice above, you can stay at the resort and be right nearby the stadium and downtown Scottsdale, plus other attractions like Topgolf and the Odysea Aquarium, if you’re traveling with people who want to do things other than watch baseball games the whole time.

Surprise (Royals/Rangers):

Distance to the PSC: 20 minutes

Surprise Stadium is located in a huge complex which includes an aquatic center and a library. It can be a little tricky to navigate such a large space, and traffic on nearby Bell Road can be quite heavy, so arrive early if it’s your first time. The food and drink options at Surprise won’t wow you, but they’re relatively cheap. The stadium is very walking-friendly, and the batting cages are located right on the main concourse, as are the clubhouses for each team. As a city, Surprise is the Land of Stripmalls, but there are some good ethnic options tucked away on Bell Road if you look.

Tempe (Angels):

Distance to the PSC: 50 minutes

Tempe is a haul, but as the home of ASU, boasts some of the amenities of a college town. Frustratingly, Phoenix doesn’t have much of a coffee culture, but that’s not the case in student-driven Tempe. As a bonus, you could drop in and watch ASU’s baseball team play if you’re looking for some extra baseball.

The Angels play at Tempe Diablo Stadium, which has one of the more dramatically desert settings in the Cactus League, nestled right up against the Twin Buttes formation (yes those little mountains are called buttes, yes this is funny). Note that the park itself is built up a small hill with some steep stairs and an uphill ramp providing access, which might be an accessibility challenge for some. Also, like the Dodgers and Giants, the Angels enjoy an influx of local fans intent on getting close to Mike Trout, and tickets can start at $20 for lawn seats. Pro tip: if you’re just picking a random game to watch, division rival games are usually a little more expensive than inter-league play.

Back fields and Autograph Opportunities:

If you’re an autographs aficionado like Ben is, you’ll find no greater satisfaction than the back fields where the minor leaguers practice at Peoria Sports Complex. Unlike the field for the established big-leaguers, which is fenced off so players can avoid fan interaction while making the walk from the field to the clubhouse, players making the trek from the four minors fields have to walk through the wide open space between practice fields, right through the slums where Mariners minors fans (and lost big league fans) are free to roam (you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a bunch of dudes standing around with fat albums of baseball cards). Ryan Divish and Shannon Drayer regularly post the day’s practice schedule, so if you’re on the hunt for autographs, at the very least, be sure to arrive shortly before practice wraps up so you can catch them as they exit the practice fields. While major leaguers are inundated by autograph requests and have perfected the art of scurrying from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, minor leaguers are usually more than happy to sign for you, especially if you can show you are a Mariners fan who knows who they are and aren’t just collecting their autograph for resale. I (Ben) have been fortunate enough to obtain autographs from Evan White and Nick Neidert in recent years (and could have gotten plenty more were I not being selective). Minor League camp officially starts a little later (pitchers and catchers report March 4th, position players on March 9th, and minor-league games don’t start until the 14th), so if you’re going towards the beginning of Spring Training, you probably won’t see all the minor-leaugers in full force. However, many of the top prospects will be invited to MLB camp and others will be invited early for mini-camp, so you should still be able to catch favorites like Ian Miller, Braden Bishop, and Evan White, or new faces like Justus Sheffield, Jarred Kelenic, or Julio Rodriguez.

You can also obtain autographs with relative ease at the games, with Peoria Sports Complex being one of the only stadiums that actually has a designated autograph area: Autograph Alley, located at the far edge of right field. The complex has staff and signage that can point you towards Autograph Alley, where you’re best suited to get autographs prior to the game as players walk/are carted to the field, or between innings as the starters are pulled from the game. Mitch Haniger typically will stop and sign for the small congregation of fans before or after the game, if not both. Once all the players have moved onto the field prior to the game and have started warming up, Ben encourages autograph seekers stake out a position along the left field line (Mariners side) in hopes of a player coming over to sign after playing catch, as Dee Gordon graciously did for Ben last season! Even if you miss out on any signatures, it’s still an awesome place to get an up-close view of the players and get a feel for their personalities.

Pro tips for seeking autographs:

  • Remember that players are essentially at work when they’re getting hounded for autographs, and might be late to go somewhere. Respect their time and their “no.”
  • Establishing yourself as a fan, not a professional autograph seeker, can be helpful. Even big-leaguers will usually stop when they see someone waving their jersey. Players are more apt to sign licensed merchandise, and less apt to sign something that could get them in trouble with companies they have sponsorship agreements with. It’s generally not a great idea to ask a guy who has a glove deal with 44 to sign your Mizuno, or who has a bat deal with Victus to sign your Louisville Slugger. Do your research!
  • Don’t reach over a kid. Kids always have autograph priority, even if they’re gofers for the professional autograph seekers (in which case they still deserve priority, and your pity, because what a crummy thing to do).
  • A player giving you an autograph is giving you both money (they could be charging for that autograph) and time. Offer them copious thanks and praise and well-wishes in return.
  • Be selective about whose signature you want, and on what. No player feels obligated to sign a scrap of a receipt (the funniest thing Kate ever saw Mitch Haniger do was sign some money a woman handed him after scrabbling in her purse for five minutes, and then walk away with it). Also, know exactly which player you’re asking for a signature. Just like you hate getting called by the wrong name at work, so do baseball players.
  • Peak times like weekend games at home against big-drawing teams will be more difficult to get autographs; try a midweek away game at one of the less-trafficked venues for peak player accessibility. This site provides autograph tips for each of the Cactus League sites.

General Tips:

  • Food in the greater Phoenix area can be a less-than-inspiring experience. Find a Sprouts Farmer’s Market nearby and stock up on healthy options and delicious snacks from their dozens of bulk item choices. You’ll save money and be happier with what you’re eating. If you, or someone you happen to be traveling with, is gluten free, feel free to reach out to erstwhile editor Isabelle Minasian (@95coffeespoons/isabelleminasian@gmail.com) for tips on what food is safe to eat at Spring Training.
  • As mentioned above, coffee culture isn’t huge in the Phoenix area. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, find out if the host has a coffeepot for you to use, or figure out where the nearest coffee shop is. This will often be a Starbucks in a Target, because Phoenix. Be prepared for there to be long lines, especially around stadiums frequented by Mariners/Giants/A’s fans. Also, the Dutch Bros coffee drive-thru in Peoria is inexplicably, insanely popular and will have a 15 car long line in both directions at literally any given time of day. (If you love your Dutch Brothers, consider staying in Tempe, where there are THREE of them, including a 24-hour one.)
  • The desert gets cold at night! Make sure to pack along a sweatshirt or hoodie if you’re going to a night game.
  • The water in Phoenix is extremely hard and most locals don’t drink it. If you dislike the taste of calcium and magnesium, put a jug of water on your shopping list
  • However much sunscreen you’ve put on, it’s not enough. Think about filling a shot glass with sunscreen and put that much on, and then do more.

Have more tips? Drop them in the comments! See you in the sunshine!