12 Mar #SparksNotes: The ER Guide to the Cactus League, from A to Z
By: Kylie Sparks
After a long, hard, cold off-season with the Manny and Bryce sweepstakes going down to the wire… and then some (congrats, Phillies!), 15 teams awoke from their great winter slumber to report to the Arizona Cactus League.
With 10 different ballparks in the greater Phoenix area, it’s easier than ever to see your favorite baseball players and stars on the rise. But the Phoenix metropolitan area is, well, huge, so it can be hard to plan a trip to Cactus League without getting overwhelmed.
We at Expanded Roster are here to help you plan your trip to Arizona for spring training, breaking down where to go in each city near your favorite teams’ training grounds, based on favorites from Phoenix-area locals and your personal guinea pig, Kylie Sparks, who always loves an adventure.
Camelback Ranch, spring home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox
Camelback Ranch isn’t just a ballpark, it’s a huge training ground complete with a lake. With six different training fields EACH for the White Sox and the Dodgers, the best part about Camelback is that you don’t need a ticket to a game to watch the Dodgers or the White Sox take batting practice and warm-ups. If you want to go watch BP and potentially see a dinger from Jose Abreu or see rising star Walker Buehler and his famous blue pitching glove, get there early; morning BP starts filling up at 9 a.m. for a 1:05 p.m. game, while afternoon BP is in the 3 p.m. hour for a 6:05 p.m. game.
Camelback Ranch also has all your food favorites from Chavez Ravine and Guaranteed Rate Field, not to mention fun for the whole family with a batting cage challenge and a pitching booth to win prizes.
Around Glendale, there are plenty of things to do. Historic Downtown Glendale is the place for one of a kind local Arizona shops, the Westgate Entertainment District has nearly 30 restaurants ranging from big chains to hole-in-the-wall local spots, and the Arrowhead Towne Center has more than 170 shops, ranging from large department stores like Dillard’s to fun hands-on stores like LEGO.
If you feel like taking in a different kind of sport, check out the Gila River Arena, home to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
CAN’T-MISS SPOT: Haus Murphy’s of Glendale
A large German food hall and Biergarten filled with live music on the weekends between local bands and the Haus Oompah Band and a great spot for parties big and small, this spot in the historic downtown district has been featured on the Food Network and attracts tourists from around the globe.
HoHoKam Stadium, spring home of the Oakland Athletics; Sloan Park, spring home of the Chicago Cubs
Mesa is about 20 minutes east of central Phoenix, and it features two big stadiums. If you’re rooting for the A’s, HoHoKam Stadium has all your Bay Area food favorites like Oakland Dogs and an Ike’s Love and Sandwiches kiosk, plus ample shade in the upper deck if you’re attending a day game. While the A’s don’t have a practice field at HoHoKam, head to the fence where teams board their buses after a game and you’ll be in good shape to get your hat or a ball signed.
Meanwhile, Sloan Park is the home to the Chicago Cubs, and there are six practice fields where you can watch Wilson Contreras take BP and say hi to Javy Baez from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on game days, with non-game days varying, so be sure to check the schedule. Like many of the other ballparks, you can get a lawn general admission seat and bring a blanket to try to catch a home run ball. Wrigley Field food favorites are also available at Sloan Park.
Outside of baseball, Mesa has a thriving arts community and plenty of attractions to stimulate your brain, like the Arizona Museum of Natural History, The Mesa Arts Center, the i.d.e.a. Museum for kids and families, and Dobson Ranch Golf Course if you want to hit the links in between games.
CAN’T-MISS SPOT: Mesa Farmers Market and Flea
One of Mesa’s cornerstone attractions is the famous farmers and flea market. Happening every Saturday (weather permitting) from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Pioneer Park, meet and shop from at least 20 local vendors (more vendors are added all the time), selling everything from local honey to homemade textiles and even handcrafted sodas!
Maryvale Stadium, spring home of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers are the only team to train in Phoenix proper and Maryvale Stadium was recently renovated, boasting new clubhouses, entry plazas, and agility fields. Here you can find Klement’s bratwurst, a staple for Milwaukee fans, and new souvenir shops where you can pick up a Christian Yelich spring training jersey.
Phoenix has everything you need and more: historic restaurants, such as Durant’s Steakhouse and Great Wall Cuisine, where the dim sum, which is served until 3 p.m., generates a line around the strip mall, attractions like the Roosevelt Row art district and Phoenix Art Museum, and endless hiking spots like Camelback Mountain and Papago Park, if you want to get in touch with your outdoorsy side.
CAN’T MISS SPOT: Lux Central
If you blink, you’ll miss it, but Lux Central’s back-door entrance leads you to an open-air rustic coffee bar and roaster, lounge, and bar and cafe open until midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on the weekends. Grab your laptop and find a chair at one of the many open bar areas — you’ll be here for a while with breakfast fare like Aunt Ida’s biscuits and chorizo gravy, lunch specialties like pesto mac and cheese, and even a dinner entrée like a New York Strip, complete with broccoli and mashed potatoes. Their cold brew buyback system is genius – buy a jar filled with cold brew, and for every time you reuse it, you get a steep discount on cold brew refills. A true gem in central Phoenix
Scottsdale Stadium, spring home of the San Francisco Giants; Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies
Scottsdale is the second largest city in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and with it being the home to THREE teams during spring training, it’s also the most packed city. The San Francisco Giants call Scottsdale Stadium home, located in Old Town Scottsdale, and it’s a huge hit with locals — it was voted Best Cactus League stadium by AZ Central newspaper. Scottsdale Stadium is also one of the main ballparks for the Arizona Fall League, so long after the Giants leave, baseball continues year-round there.
Meanwhile, the hometown D-Backs and the Colorado Rockies call the Talking Stick Entertainment District home during Cactus League. Salt River Fields is just one (not so) small part of the Talking Stick district, and as it’s a huge tourist destination, they know how to cater to visitors. Salt River Fields boasts one of the biggest kid zones in Cactus League, the Cold Stone Kids Fun Field, complete with wiffleball games so kids can run the bases, and a Cold Stone Creamery cart where you can score ice cream after hitting that big league home run.
The Talking Stick and Old Town Scottsdale neighborhoods have plenty of other activities to enjoy. Talking Stick is home to Polar Play Ice Bar, Topgolf, OdySea Museum and Aquarium, iFLY Indoor Skydiving, Velocity VR, and RoadHouse Cinemas, meaning you’ll never run out of entertainment options after a game
Old Town Scottsdale is public transport-friendly and has plenty of wine-tasting rooms, tap rooms for craft beer, local cafés, art galleries, local-owned shops, and spas to relax and unwind after a nice day at the ballpark. The free Old Town Trolley, running straight from Scottsdale Stadium into the heart of Old Town, is the easiest way to explore.
CAN’T MISS SPOT: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
With free admission on Thursdays, SMoCA is a 21-acre museum with nine to 12 exhibitions a year, showcasing music, dance, art, and performances from around the corner to around the world. You never know if you’ll stumble onto a world-famous painting in residence or discover rising stars in the arts who live down the street. Be sure to visit the Turrell Skyspace in the courtyard, which have been commissioned by SMoCA since its opening in 1999.
Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
While The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play in Tempe, the southernmost location of all of Cactus League teams, their field is also the most accessible. Right off I-10 and US-60, Diablo Stadium is also minutes away from Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, convenient for fans flying in from LA and Orange County. Diablo Stadium is framed by the Twin Buttes of Tempe, two flat-topped hills curving down to the general admission lawn, giving it the title of Most Picturesque stadium and perfect for your Instagram. While there aren’t true practice fields on ste, fans can hang out at Diablo Stadium on non-game days from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., meaning there’s a chance you’ll get to see Shohei Ohtani’s rehab progress and get an autograph.
Tempe is the home to Arizona State University, meaning you’ll get some of that great college town atmosphere, but it’s known more for its outdoor activities, like golf and hiking. Use the Golf Tempe website to schedule your tee times at two golf courses. Be sure to also go see landmarks like the Tempe Public Library, the Tempe History Museum, and the Tempe Center for the Arts and enjoy community events such as Free Art Friday, the Arizona Aloha Festival, car shows, and the 6th Street Market. Be sure to check the city’s website – you never know what’s planned for that day! LEGOLAND Arizona is also based in Tempe, so your little ones can have hands-on fun when you’re not rooting for the Angels.
CAN’T MISS SPOT: SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium
After exploring Tempe and the university campus, head over to this aquarium, right off of I-10, and check out its 360-degree ocean tunnel, interactive touch tanks and rescued and rehabilitated ocean life. It’s a fun and relaxing time for the whole family.
Peoria Sports Complex, spring home of the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners
Peoria is a hop, skip, and a jump north from Glendale, and is now home to Manny Machado and his new team, the Padres, as well as the Seattle Mariners. Peoria Sports Complex is a fan’s dream come true – come early for batting practice at 9 a.m., stay for a game and head to Autograph Alley after to say hi to baseball’s premier Bad Boy. Peoria Sports Complex has one of the most expansive gluten-free and food allergy-sensitive menus across the Cactus League, offering gluten-free hot dogs, hamburgers, rice bowls, smoothies, and fish tacos.
Besides Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria is home to P83, an entertainment district. After watching the Mariners or the Padres, kick back at Harkins Theatre Arrowhead 18 and catch the latest movies, take in a show at Arizona Broadway Theatre, or even go ice skating at AZ Ice rink. If you’re in the mood for food, there are more than 20 restaurants ranging from steakhouse and Brazilian to fro yo and sushi. The best part is that P83 is next door to Peoria Sports Complex, so after seeing Manny hit a few dingers, you can walk across the street and grab a burger or Pho. There are two other hot entertainment spots in Peoria – Park West, with five new restaurants and a multiplex movie theatre, and Lake Pleasant Towne Center, which has local restaurants like Lakeside Bar and Grill and Sushi Doraku.
CAN’T MISS SPOT: Old Town Peoria – although Peoria is building up its downtown district, there are plenty of great spots in Old Town Peoria, from Lucidi Distilling Co., a local distillery that makes its own spirits, to Driftwood Coffee Co. and the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. Oh, and by next season, the Edwards Hotel, which was built in 1918 and is known to be haunted, will be completely renovated.
Goodyear Ballpark, spring home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds
Goodyear is on the western edge of the Phoenix metropolitan area, which means for those heading into town from the east by car just south of the I-10, it’s the first ballpark they’ll see. That is good news for Dodgers fans still mourning the loss of Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer — they won’t be far away. At least, not in the spring. The Cleveland Indians also train at Goodyear, which means Ohio fans and transplants will be able to get their fix of their favorite hometown favorites, like the Polish Boy sandwich and the Skyline Coney, at Goodyear Ballpark. Inside the park, the Hangar 46 concession stand offers an $18 wristband that gives you access to all-you-can-eat hot dogs, funnel cake fries, polish dogs, and much more.
Like Peoria, Goodyear Ballpark also offers an expansive menu for those with dietary restrictions, with a variety of selections for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and other allergen-sensitive folks. Be sure to check out the sculpture out front, The Ziz, which stands 60’6”, the exact distance between the mound and home plate.
While Goodyear is on the smaller side of Phoenix-area cities, it makes up for its size with the number of restaurants, attractions and parks within city limits. With more than 50 places to eat, seven shopping centers, a skate park (yes, a skate park), a dog park, a trampoline park and an aquarium, you won’t run out of options of things to do after watching a game at Goodyear Ballpark.
CAN’T-MISS SPOT: North Lake at Estrella Mountain Ranch
Want to canoe or paddle boat? Take a leisurely walk around a lake? Enjoy the scenic views of Goodyear? Head to North Lake at Estrella Mountain Ranch, where you can kick back and relax in the middle of a packed itinerary. The best part is you don’t have to be a resident of Estrella Mountain Ranch to partake in the waterfront activities.
Surprise Stadium, spring home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers
Surprise is the farthest location of all the Phoenix spring training stadiums, as it’s about 45 minutes from Phoenix’s city center, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great stadium. In fact, the training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers was named the top Cactus League location by USA Today last year, both for family and fan experiences and the facility itself. With the most fan experiences across Cactus League — VIP seating, getting up close with fan favorites players, fan zones, 100 percent viewing across all seats, and family-friendly kid zones, not to mention Kansas City barbecue specials and Triple Play Hot Dogs. Surprise Stadium will make any visitor feel like they’re back home.
Surprise also has a plethora of attractions after game day, including the Surprise IMAX theatre, the Surprise Aquatic Center water park, Uptown Alley with 40 lanes of bowling and a super arcade with an attached restaurant, and the Pitchfork Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, you won’t feel like you’re missing Phoenix with all that Surprise has to offer.
CAN’T-MISS SPOT: Truman Ranch/Justice Brothers Ranch
Ever wanted to go pick your own breakfast? At Truman Ranch (also known as Justice Brothers Ranch), you can. From December to March, grab a map (and some samples from the sample table), explore their fields and pick your own citrus for breakfast or snacks. They’re only open Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., but it’s a one-of-a-kind experience where you can truly experience farm-to-face fruit.
While each park has a deal with nearby hotels, if you’re operating on a budget and don’t want to spend $300+ a night, the easiest choice is Airbnb. You can search near where you’re going to be, set your price parameters, and go wild. Prices for Airbnbs have ranged anywhere from $60 to $150 a night for full houses during spring training, but act quickly because great deals are going very fast.
The Phoenix metro area has a ton of options to choose from while making the most of your spring training trip, and every area has a hidden gem.
Happy travels — may your team’s bats be hot and your trip, extremely memorable.