Spring Training Planning Guide: Veteran Tips

To me there’s a big difference between a Spring Training excursion and showing up to watch a regular season game. You have the day off, it is centered around baseball, so make the most of it. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that I hope help you out.

Back Fields

The back fields are what really make Spring Training different than any other experience. First off the grounds are simply baseball paradise. Pristine field after pristine field under clear beautiful skies makes for a great walk and way to spend an hour or two before the game.

On the back fields you’ll see everything from stars doing rehab work to minor leaguers working on drills or playing games. It is a chance to see the work that goes into the game up close and realize how great of ballplayers these guys really are.

Unfortunately access at Tempe Diablo has been limited in recent years but it should open back up at some point. When you can get back there, head to the quad area. From there you can see four full fields. You might catch drills or scrimmages depending on the time you arrive and the schedule for the day. You will certainly see players and coaches milling around.

Most stadiums make it pretty easy to access the back fields. My personal favorites are Camelback Ranch, Salt River Fields, and Maryvale Ballpark for convenient access to the back fields. The only really difficult ones to access are Goodyear and HoHoKam. Some can be quite a walk from the parking lot so ask an attendant where to park if you plan on accessing the back fields.

Pregame

Unless you are going to Peoria or to a lesser degree Sloan Park, there won’t be food and drink options near the ballpark. Eat breakfast before heading out and pack a cooler of drinks. I made the mistake of showing up to Tempe Diablo my first year thinking we’d grab something nearby then walk to the game. Ha. Tempe Diablo is in an office park.

With most games starting a 1 PM local time you’ll want to eat prior to arriving at the ballpark. And with tailgating legal at all parks to my knowledge, it doesn’t hurt to power down a little outside of the game, either.

Combine the Two

For the last several years my dad and I have made a habit of hitting a sandwich shop and bringing our own lunch to the back fields. I’ll bring a bottle of water or two and my dad will generally bring a couple tall cans of beer. We’ll find a cool spot, eat our lunch, and watch the minor leaguers do drills. Just be polite and throw away your trash.

Autographs

There’s not much better than being a kid and having a ballplayer sign a ball or hat for you. And Spring Training is a great time for that. Adults can also get items signed but please remember it should always be kids first and one item per player.

Getting minor league signatures is easy. Take a kid, give him/her a pen, and walk around the back fields. Generally plenty of those guys will sign and take pictures. Last year my son got over two dozen autographs just by hanging out by the White Sox prospects.

If you want big leaguers to sign, that’s a little trickier. For Angels games at Tempe wait along the first base line until just before game time. A small contingent of players will go down the line signing autographs. At road games, try to get near the Angels dugout.

Some teams and ballparks will have designated autograph zones. Both Peoria and Maryvale have what they term “autograph alley” and HoHoKam has an unofficial one. Always ask ushers for tips in this department.

If you’re an adult wanting autographs, I’d advise you to look for the MLB Alumni auctions and the groups of players who sign across the Cactus League. Ferguson Jenkins, Rollie Fingers, and others have groups of former players who set up at games and sign balls, hats, etc. for a small fee. They’ll generally hang out and take pictures and chat a bit if the lines aren’t too long.

Food

Ballpark food has come a long way since the days of hot dogs and peanuts. That said, hot dogs and peanuts are pretty amazing and I’ll generally go with that the first day. Here are some of my other favorites:

Camelback Ranch and Sloan Park host the two Chicago teams and have some pretty great Chicago style hot dog stands.

HoHoKam has an Ike’s Love and Sandwiches behind home plate and a great ice cream and cookie place down first base that will make you a fresh ice cream cookie sandwich. Also, lots of craft beers on the patio.

Goodyear Ballpark makes a mean Philly cheesesteak

Salt River Fields has Sonoran hot dogs in the grandstand and a Cold Stone Creamery out in center field.

There’s a guy making kettle corn behind home plate at Maryvale Ballpark. You say you won’t get any, but after a brat and a few innings of smelling it, you’ll buy a bag and enjoy it.

The smell of kettle corn is nothing compared to the effervescent garlic fries aroma from third base at Scottsdale Stadium. The line is long, but there’s a reason.

Each ballpark has at least passable food, but those are the food items I look forward to when I’m going to that ballpark.

Etc:

Day games = bring sunblock. Most ballparks have it near restrooms but by the time you realize you need it, it is probably too late.

Water bottles. To be allowed in most ballparks they need to be plastic and either completely full and sealed or completely empty. The newer ballparks have filling stations, the older ones have drinking fountains.

DUIs are real things, even on vacation. There’s absolutely no need to endanger anybody or risk spending vacation time in jail. Take an Uber or a cab, they aren’t hard to find.

Travel time. Remember that traffic builds near the ballparks as game times draw near. Yes, the crowds are smaller but most of these ballparks are on surface streets and in some cases office or residential areas. The number of parking lots and people collecting parking fees is smaller than at an MLB game. Give yourself some time. Worst case is you get there early and walk the back fields.

Time change. Arizona doesn’t fall back so until mid March you will lose an hour once you cross the state line. Not a big deal if you fly, but if you are driving

You veterans chime in with your tips as well.

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ryanfea
Super Member
2 months ago

From my experience last year, every park except Tempe Diablo are very anal about having your items in a clear bag. Tempe didn’t care but Camelback put on a whole show and I had to take every single item I had and stuff it in my pockets. Real security risk that brown plastic bag.

Angelz4ever
Super Member
2 months ago

International SS signed today for the Halos. With history like Baldoquin and Maitan we sure have spent this money wisely.

RexFregosi
Super Member
3 months ago

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – Mar 19
last time i saw him i took my two daughters – Berlin, 2016 – best Fathers Day ever
i’ve seen about eight shows over 40+ years

yeah he’s the boss. you should go.

Angelz4ever
Super Member
3 months ago

I hope to catch a day or two in Arizona to see some ST action.

steelgolf
Super Member
3 months ago

Question for Rex Fregosi: I’m taking my son this year, he has Feb. 16th to the 19th off from school, this is before games start, would it be worth a trip then to watch the practices? I realize all the concessions would be closed. Then maybe take another weekend and catch a game?

RexFregosi
Super Member
3 months ago
Reply to  steelgolf

The 16-18th will be just P&Cs working out, and first full squad workout is the 19th.

im guessing the access won’t be great either that first week, just views akin to an outfield view, because they will be on the lower fields and fans haven’t been able to access

the following week would be better because they will eventually work out at the stadium . The first game is the 24th, so my guess is best days to see them practice, in order:
23, 22, 21, 20, 19

steelgolf
Super Member
3 months ago
Reply to  RexFregosi

Thanks for the info!

RexFregosi
Super Member
3 months ago
Reply to  steelgolf

if you are jonesin’ for Angel baseball and embrace our pitchers and catchers you would still be in baseball heaven that first week – i’ve put in my vacation from Feb 14-23rd. its the highlight of my baseball year.

o’Hoppe impresses me more as a leader than a catcher or ballplayer. it will be interesting to see our new ‘QB’ in action as well as Ronnie Washington.

Angelz4ever
Super Member
3 months ago
Reply to  RexFregosi

He appears to be mature beyond his years.

red floyd
Legend
3 months ago

Around Tempe Diablo, there’s lots of street parking in the office park area. Avoid paying for the lots. And you get a little exercise, too!

RexFregosi
Super Member
3 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Joiner

^ yes – this is a good one – it reminds me of the office parks south of the Big A where there’s sidestreet parking.

RexFregosi
Super Member
3 months ago

ASU baseball usually plays in evenings at Phoenix Muni which is the most historic cactus league park – the enthusiasm at the college game and the ping of the bat are stark contrasts.

Hockey? catch an NHL game at the Mullet – its a great environment

Nascar will have a race weekend Mar 9-10 – thats fun – the track is closest to the Red/Indians stadium in Goodyear.
i dunno about the Suns but it was their Big 3 could be just about to go off. I had to ask others -“did Lebron play last night?”

casinos take sports bets now – thats recent.

other cultural things abound too

bring water always.

its a cool winter as you know – my house has been at 31-32F in the morning this week and that hasnt happened in five years. Even if it warms in March, the evenings will be cool.

always gas up in Quartzsite, going each way.