With an early start to Spring Training this year, it’s time again to start dreaming of a Spring Training trip. If you haven’t been to Mariners Spring Training in Arizona before, planning a trip can feel overwhelming. For years I avoided it because all I heard about was how expensive and crowded the area was, how early you had to start looking for a place to stay, and how the best way to go was to have a huge group of people with whom you could share a house and expenses. As a single person (a relatively broke single person), I thought Spring Training was for families who had been attending for years, not for me. Adding to the lack of appeal was the fact that it all takes place in a desert, one of my least favorite biomes. But Spring Training is for fans of all stripes, and it’s not even as hot as your smug friend on Instagram makes it seem. After years of going for both ST and the Arizona Fall League, I’m now an old hand at the desert—and have even developed an appreciation for its beauty. Here is our annual guide to Mariners Spring Training, consisting of tips and tricks we as a staff have picked up over the years. Here’s the first of many tips: Even if you aren’t usually a reader of the comments, make sure to read through the ones on this article, which are always filled with things we’ve missed, and often feature some hot tips from valley-dwellers themselves. -Kate
A note: Arizona continues to thumb its nose at Daylight Savings Time, so be aware that for the first half of Spring Training, Phoenix is an hour ahead (so games listed at 1 PM are actually at 12 PM Pacific); on March 8, the times will line up again. Here’s a link to the ST schedule for reference.
Even though Spring Training is high season for the valley, flights from the Seattle area to Phoenix are plentiful and generally relatively inexpensive, provided you’re working ahead. Flights earlier in the ST window will generally be cheaper than those later on, when spring break starts hitting colleges. Southwest is always a solid starting point, especially if you’re coming from the Northwest, and I like that bags fly free because not everyone needs to carry their bag on the plane if your trip is more than a weekend check your bags you monsters. Sometimes, especially if you’re willing to fly at weird times, you can actually do better with two one-way tickets from different airlines; I’ve combined Alaska and Southwest before for cheaper than a round-trip. Delta can also have some sneaky good deals. -Kate
Where to stay:
Hotels can be wildly expensive, especially the ones close to the complexes, but if you’re only staying for a few days, staying within walking distance of the Peoria Sports Complex can save you on a rental car. Because the Mariners share the complex with the Padres, you’re basically guaranteed that there’s a game going on every day, even if it isn’t the Mariners, and you’ll still have easy access to the practice fields. The La Quinta on 83rd is a stone’s throw from the complex, but the Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, Comfort Suites, and Holiday Inn are also right nearby. Spring Hill Suites and the Quality Inn are a little further but still well within walking distance. Remember, though, you’ll pay for the convenience, as rooms can run well over $250 a night.
If you’re flying solo or with one other person and don’t mind staying in a room in someone’s house, Airbnbs are plentiful, inexpensive, and generally nice, and it’s possible to find homes with “casitas”, or guest houses, if you want more of your own space. As with all Airbnbs, read descriptions and reviews carefully. The more people in your party, the trickier it can be to find a space, and the earlier you’ll need to start. VRBO can be better for bigger parties or those who don’t mind spending more for a more premium property. You’ll still come in around the price of a hotel per person, but with nicer amenities and privacy. -Kate
How to get around:
Public transportation in Phoenix sucks, to put it bluntly. If you’re not staying right near a complex you’ll probably want a car to get around, although if you have friends you can share rides with and you’re all going the same place at all times you can probably get away with rideshares. There is light rail in Phoenix but it travels in a straight line that doesn’t go anywhere near the Peoria Sports Complex, unfortunately, and the bus system is incomprehensible and labyrinthine. There is talk that Uber and Lyft plan to pull out of Phoenix Sky Harbor airport because of increased fees; the case is currently before the Arizona Supreme Court, but make sure to check the status of rideshares at Sky Harbor before you leave. If Uber and Lyft do pull out of the airport, one workaround could be to walk to the light rail station attached to the airport and take it a few stops away, then summon your ride. Personally, I rent a car from Turo, which is like Airbnb, but for cars, and usually comes in a little cheaper than a typical car rental agency. One last word of caution: Phoenix is very pedestrian-unfriendly, even in high-traffic areas like around the ST complexes, which is something to keep in mind if you’re planning on walking. -Kate
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, which is inexcusably selfish behavior. Couple this zeal for enforcement with a wide availability of alcohol for cheap (including drive-through liquor stores!), and Arizona can be 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.
The Spring Training towns:
Traffic in the valley can be rough, especially if you have to use I-10 or I-17. Leave plenty of time if you’re traveling after 3 PM and have to cross any major highways. The carpool lanes can be big time-savers if you’re not flying solo, as most drivers in Phoenix are. The closest complexes to Peoria are Glendale/Camelback Ranch (CWS/Dodgers) and Surprise (Rangers/Royals), both a 15-20 minute drive. Maryvale (Brewers), Goodyear (Reds/Cleveland) and Salt River (Rockies/DBacks) are a little further afield (30 minutes plus), and Mesa (Cubs, A’s), Tempe (Angels), and Scottsdale (Giants) are all fair treks (45 minutes plus) if you’re starting from the PSC. Scottsdale is by far the most fun ST town with the most to do, including an artsy downtown with shops and restaurants, but has the price tag to match and can get extremely crowded. Peoria is the land of chain restaurants and big box stores, and Goodyear rolls up its sidewalks at 9 PM sharp—Scottsdale is your best bet if you’re looking for nightlife or shopping. Maryvale is the closest to the city of Phoenix, which has places that stay open later, and Tempe, as a college town, also has late-night happenings, but by and large the valley goes to bed early, so check restaurant/bar closing times and call ahead. NB: Salt River is located on a reservation, and thus operates under different laws (the nearby Target doesn’t stock alcohol, for example), so that’s something to be aware of if you’re staying near there.
Daily schedule and minor-league games:
Spring Training is about showing up to the back fields and just watching players participate in drills, seeing them pass by you, ogling the players’ cars in the parking lots, and appreciating the fact that baseball is back. If you limit yourself to simply the games, you’re missing out. -Grant
The back fields are part of the complex, to the right of the stadium and the Mariners offices through the chain link fence. If the fences are open, there’s probably something going on. Hit up the practice fields in the mornings to see the minor leaguers take drills and play games later in the afternoon. You can get a copy of the minor league schedule from the office (not the box office of the PSC, but the Mariners’ central ST office, located next to the player parking lot—just walk in when they’re open and ask the nice person at the front desk for a copy of the minor league schedule). The big-leaguers practice on the field closest to the PSC a couple hours ahead of their games, but you might get a chance to see someone out taking extra reps at a new position or some extra BP. It’s worth dropping by the fields to see what’s happening at all hours of the day, or check the beat reporters’ Twitters (Divish/Drayer/Johns), who will often tweet out the day’s schedule. Bonus: if you’re there early enough, you can save the parking fee by just leaving your car in the lot, walking across the street to grab some dinner (Tacos Revolu, right next to the PSC, is a good option; try the cheese shell taco and thank me later), and then walking back when the game starts. -Kate
The games themselves/stadium tips:
Particularly since the games start while it’s practically still mid-February, don’t assume it’s going to be blazing hot at every game. Day games might require pants in the early going, but your mileage may vary. Night games at Spring Training are pretty special, since you usually get treated to an incredible sunset/dusk time span right before the game starts or during it, but woe to you if you showed up in only shorts and a t-shirt because your freshly sunbaked skin is gonna freeze. Bring a sweatshirt and/or blanket or plan on splurging on a desert-themed Mariners hoodie at the team store, which is what the merch managers plan on you doing. -Eric
If any of your dates overlap with the Mariners playing the Dodgers or Giants away, buy tickets for those games immediately or just consider that a good day to do something other than baseball. It’s not uncommon for entrance to Camelback Ranch (Dodgers) or Scottsdale Stadium (Giants) to top fifty bucks a person, and the parking is also pricey. I haven’t been to Sloan Park in Mesa (Cubs), but apparently that’s the same. If you are sun-sensitive, some stadiums are fair-skin-friendlier than others; Peoria has a fair amount of shade and Salt River is well-shaded, but Camelback and Scottsdale can both be barbecue grills. Investing in a giant hat along with your triple-digit-SPF sunscreen is not a bad idea. Prepare to pay five to ten dollars to park at the stadiums, and more at the higher-trafficked ones like Sloan, Camelback, and Scottsdale (where parking is very limited; most people park a ways away and take a golf cart ride over. Some stadiums are really picky about what you bring in—most don’t allow metal, so leave your Hydroflask at home, and Goodyear won’t even let you bring an empty water bottle for...reasons?—so check each stadium’s regulations before you head out, although even those can be not up-to-date. Best practice: bring as little as possible into the park with you, and make sure your sunscreen bottle is plastic. -Kate
The first rule of autograph signing is to remember kids have priority. The second first rule of autograph seeking is to remember that none of these players owe you an autograph. Players are technically at work when they’re getting asked for autographs, and might have other things on their minds. Also, professional autograph seekers hound these players every day, at all hours of the day, to get the players to do something for free that they will later attempt to make money on. So if you’re an adult approaching them with a baseball card and a sharpie, they might already be looking askance. Remember they are human, and be a human.
Some players will stop and sign at “autograph alley,” which is located at the right-field gate of the PSC, where players pass to the field from the locker rooms, but your best best is to head to the back fields and try to catch players on their way from practice or just wandering around. Minor leaguers are generally happy to sign and love being recognized, so do your homework looking up their headshots on MiLB.com and you could be rewarded. If you have an enthusiastic youngster collecting autographs indiscriminately, take a second to note next to the signature who gave it, or help them set up an autograph book with pages dedicated to players in advance of your trip (fun DIY project alert!). -Kate
As Kate noted above, bank on the back fields for most of your autograph-obtaining success. But don’t think that you’re automatically relegated to getting sigs from minor leaguers. Several big league guys and top prospects trot the concrete path from the big league practice field to the Mariners’ clubhouse and many are often willing to stop for autographs, pictures, and even to just chat a bit, sometimes for surprisingly long. In the last couple years, I’ve seen the likes of Dustin Ackley (remember when that was almost a thing again?), Shed Long, and Cal Raleigh stop to sign there. That said, don’t sleep on the minor league-specific fields. My buddy and I were able to walk right up to JULIOOOOO and Jarred Kelenic last spring to chat, take videos of them hitting, and take photos with them completely unobstructed. The fans that are there to watch these guys—especially during a time that a big league practice is ongoing—are extremely few and far between.
If you’re looking to get an autograph at a game, I’d recommend simply posting up past the dugout and down the foul line and waiting for players to come in from the right field corner (at Peoria Sports Complex at least). Often times players from the away team will stop and sign on their way to the dugout to drop off their gear, and I’ve frequently seen players from the home team sign in the same spot down the left field line after they wrap up their warm-ups and pre-game catch. Don’t be afraid to politely ask the players “Hey ___, can you please sign this?” once they’ve wrapped up their warm-up routine. Sometimes making it an actual human interaction instead of just a collection of noise coming from the stands can be enough to grab a guy’s attention. Overall, just be polite and patient. Oh, and if you’ve got time, stay through the end of the game! I watched JULIOOOO stick around for 20-30 minutes after his Cactus League debut last year and sign for literally every fan that attempted to get an autograph from him. And other players—young guys in particular—are often times going to be hanging around for a little afterwards. -Ben
Things to do that aren’t baseball:
If you’re traveling with kids who are being whiners about all the baseball you want to watch, buy their compliance with a trip to Legoland. Not the good Legoland in California, obviously; this one is in a mall in Tempe. However, it is still a palace of enchantment for your Lego-loving youngster, with a couple of rides, a 4-D movie theatre, a play structure, and Legos as far as the eye can see. For less Lego-lovers, there is an affiliated aquarium right across the way and you can get a discounted pass to both attractions for hours upon hours of fun. There’s even free wifi. The Angels ST complex is right nearby so you can immediately capitalize on all that goodwill you bought with more baseball.
Other things to do with kids: Encanto Park, located on a city golf course in downtown Phoenix, is a small-scale, inexpensive amusement park (think the Fun Forest at Seattle Center in its heyday) for the eight-and-under set; Castles and Coasters, located nearby the PSC off I-17, is the same idea but will appeal to older kids and teens. Hurricane Harbor is a waterpark that’s also relatively close to the complex. -Kate
Golf! I am not a golfer, but I’m told Arizona is nice for golfers. There are also three (3!) TopGolf locations in the greater Phoenix area, which I hear are fun driving range/drinking range places for both novice and experienced golfers. I think you can try to hit certain targets with your drives? And get points? Sounds like a carnival with fewer clowns and more Sperry Topsiders paired with bermuda shorts (Editors note: Those are all clowns, Eric). I dunno, man, this is Phoenix. Take what you can get. -Eric
I used to hate the desert but then on a rainout day (!) last spring I went to the Desert Botanical Garden because it was a free admission day and now I am Kate, Queen of Succulents. The garden stays open late and there are always interesting programs going on. The paths are walkable for children or those with limited mobility, and the views of Papago Park are stunning. The Phoenix Zoo is nearby as well if you want to make a non-baseball day of it. -Kate
Even if you can’t quite swing staying at Talking Stick Resort, I strongly recommend checking it out if you’re at all into gambling. The casino is quite vast, the pool, hot tub, and outdoor bar are amazing and easily accessible if you’ve got a long-armed person in your group, and it’s real close to Top Golf and the aquarium.
If you’ve got any desire to venture into Old Town Scottsdale for some fun touristy shops, highlighted by Baseballism. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a baseball-themed retail store with some pretty cool gear and accessories. They’ve got a few locations nationally now, and each one sells region-specific gear exclusive to that location (and online, but that’s no fun), which means you can flex your Cactus League attendance by grabbing some sweet cactus gear at the Scottsdale location. Two of the three years I’ve visited, they were giving away free limited edition Cactus League snapbacks with any purchase, and they’re actually pretty cool and good quality hats! The shop is also a stone’s throw from the Giants’ home ballpark, and a couple of great restaurant options (see below). -Ben
If you’re a Pacific Northwest outdoor enthusiast, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that there is some decent hiking in the Phoenix/Peoria area. Among the most well-known hikes is Camelback Mountain. There are a couple of different trails up Camelback, which is located in Scottsdale: the Cholla Trail and the Echo Canyon Trail. Both are roughly equivalent in terms of elevation, though the Cholla Trail is known to be slightly easier. These are rocky, strenuous, and difficult hikes! Though the elevation gain is approximately 1,300 feet (about the same as Wallace Falls Trail in Washington), this hike is on the more technically demanding side. It’s recommended that you get there quite early in the morning, both to more easily find parking and to minimize your time spent baking in the midday sun.
Camelback is fairly urban, so if you’re looking for more wilderness-themed hiking you can drive a ways to either Tonto National Forest (pretty far) or the South Mountain Preserve (not as far). I am not personally acquainted with either, and I recommend looking at resources such as Alltrails.com for more information on these hikes. -Zach [White Tank Mountain is another opportunity for hiking in the area, which has a variety of trails including surfaced and accessible ones. -Kate]
Places to eat:
NB: The water in Phoenix is extremely hard, and most locals don’t drink it. However, the combination of icky-tasting tap water, copious sun, and an abundance of cheap alcohol can be a one-way ticket to dehydration station, so make sure you have a plan to keep yourself well-watered. I bought a filtering water bottle last year, which...helps. The first thing I do when I touch down in the valley is find the nearest Sprouts Market and stock up on treats from their endless selection of bulk foods and other interesting snacks (peanut butter chocolate trail mix forever), along with a big bottle of water or two.
Peoria is not the best place to eat unless you’re a huge fan of chain restaurants, but Tacos Revolu right by the complex has an interesting variety and tasty drinks. For the best tacos, though, go a few blocks down 83rd to Tacos Calafia, which is as inexpensive as it is delicious. It’s in the complex with the inexplicably-always-packed Dutch Bros. If you’re tightly bound to the PSC area, The Moon Saloon is relatively cheap for the chain-tastic P83 complex. It is fine. -Kate
I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been said, but I must throw my weight behind Tacos Calafia. The deals are magnificent for food and margaritas. Shoutout also to Mambo’s Kitchen, which is a Dominican restaurant that is a favorite of players past and present. The walls are decorated with signed photos from players like Albert Pujols, Fernando Rodney, and, if memory serves, Buster Posey for some reason. ~John
You’ve probably heard Jerry Dipoto and Aaron Goldsmith wax at length about Pizzeria Bianco, which is, in fact, very good. The original location, downtown by Chase Field, has limited reservations and only seats about 30-40; it fills up quickly for dinner (parking can also be tricky; try the garage on 5th and Monroe). Bar Bianco next door opens at 4 and is a good place to wait for your table, and you can bring your drink with you when your table is available. If you have a bigger party or don’t want to wait, try one of PB’s secondary locations, like the one at 20th and Camelback, or try the original location for lunch. Personally, I like Craft 64 in Scottsdale, right near the Giants complex, just as well, especially their fig pizza (try it with candied bacon, thank me later) and lengthy, delicious beer list. If you’re on the other side of Scottsdale at Salt River Fields, try the Scottsdale Beer Company, which has 18+ of their own beers on tap, plus imports and seasonal specials as well as plenty of snacks. -Kate
Ever wanted to destroy your stomach with Mexican/Chinese fusion cuisine? Chino Bandido says, “Say no more, fam.” Want a side of Chile Relleno with your Egg Foo Yung? You got it. Want some General Tso’s chicken in your quesadilla? Fuck yeah, dawg. And every meal comes with a snickerdoodle cookie, because, why not? Welcome to Phoenix, shitbird. -Eric
The best al pastor I’ve ever had is at Tacos Huicho in Phoenix. The pork is spit-roasted and then topped with copious fresh pineapple and onion. Grab all the tacos you can carry and head over to Wren House Brewing, just a few blocks away, to enjoy their taps in a cozy 1920s bungalow. -Kate
If you’re in a big group that can’t decide on what kind of food to grab or just want a little bit of everything, Headquarters AZ is a solid choice. Right across the street from the complex, Headquarters offers something for everyone: burgers, wings, tacos, pizza, and even sushi - which is far better than Arizona sushi has any right being. There’s a variety of beers on tap and fishbowl cocktails available, and any option you go for is pretty affordable. -Connor
As somebody whose group ends up in Old Town Scottsdale nearly every year, a lot of the meals I’ve eaten out are in that area. As such, I’d recommend Salty Senorita for tasty margs and Mexican food, or Rehab Burger Therapy for amazing onion rings and burgers, decadent dessert, and a solid happy hour in a cool surfer-themed restaurant. Also, Raising Cane’s right near the complex is some of the best chicken fingers you’ll ever have. -Ben
Got your own tips and tricks to life in the valley or Spring Training in general? Did we miss a favorite spot? Drop a note in the comments below!