March is Cactus League roadtrip time. Every year in the month of March since 1947 major league baseball teams have convened in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area to stretch, limber up, and get themselves ready for the long baseball season. Currently, fifteen of the thirty major league teams do their spring training in what is known as the Cactus League.
Driving down from the snowy high elevations of New Mexico into the warm, sun-kissed Sonoran Desert is always a welcome treat — an early taste of the summer to come. It is always a game to see who can be the first to spot a saguaro cactus as you descend into the desert basin surrounding Phoenix. As you arrive in the “valley of the sun” there are signs that it is spring training time everywhere. The great Cubs player Ernie Banks said it well.
“Spring training means flowers, people coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism and baseball. Spring training is a time to think about being young again.” — Ernie Banks
I’m a die-hard Cubs fan. I acquired that condition back in 1967 when the wonders of cable TV arrived and every Cub game started being televised where I grew up. I fell in love with the Cubs of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins and I never got out of the habit. So when I go to Spring Training the favorite venue is Sloan Field in Mesa — springtime home of the Cubs. However, there are alot of nice facilities in the Cactus League and they are all fairly close together in the Phoenix area. During the course of a week a team like the Cubs will play a few “home” games at Sloan and some “away” games sprinkled around at various other small stadiums in the area.
“I love baseball. I’ll probably end up one of those old farts who go to spring training every year and drive from game to game all day.” — Steve Earle
It’s mighty nice weather in Phoenix compared to Chicago (and most other places).
The games don’t matter much, but the talent on display is outstanding.
If you have never watched the movie, “Field of Dreams” give it a try … even if you aren’t a baseball fan. It is worth gaining an understanding about baseball’s special place in America’s culture.
“… The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhhhhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” — from the movie ‘Field of Dreams’
Fans come from everywhere to see their team. Tickets have gotten to be pretty expensive over the years. The cheap seats are often in general admission areas in the outfields. It’s a decidedly younger and more casual crowd there than in the reserved seats. I like the variety of moving around in the parks to get different viewpoints over the course of the week.
“It’s the fans that need spring training. You gotta get ’em interested. Wake ’em up and let ’em know that their season is coming, the good times are gonna roll.” — legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray
You can’t always be at a baseball game so a standard part of the Spring Training roadtrip is to get in a few nice morning hikes. Camelback Mountain, Squaw Peak, Papago Park, and the Superstitions are all fairly close by and offer nice hiking opportunities. South Mountain Park, just South of downtown Phoenix is another of these areas that I like to visit.
“A man on foot will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” ― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire