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Start the Season With Arizona's Cactus League Baseball

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By Patricia Arrigoni

This time of year in Arizona is all about baseball. If you board almost any flight headed for the Phoenix in late February and March, you will most likely find the other passengers smiling and wearing baseball caps featuring their favorite team logos. Fifteen major league teams from all around the country now play within an hour of each other and offer an amazing variety of sport entertainment in an intimate atmosphere — along with a lot of fun.

The enthusiastic fans are all convinced that this is the year their team will be the champions, and it is as exciting to see young players trying out as it is to watch the veteran stars. The atmosphere at the games is casual, the sun is warm and the games are exciting, whether you are sitting in the pricey shaded seats or on a lawn behind the outfield fence. It helps to have sunglasses, seat cushions, suntan lotion, hats and water. Stadium refreshment stands will provide refreshments that include the requisite foot-long hotdogs.

When I arrived in Phoenix last season and boarded a shuttle van to my destination, the only other passenger headed as far west as I was going turned out to be a sports agent. He told me he represented 44 athletes in several sports, including baseball and boxing, and he was on his way to observe the "Open Tryout Day" being held by the Dodgers. One day had been set aside to allow unsigned players to try out for a position on the Dodgers' team. He explained that all of the teams save a day for exactly this purpose.

After the agent had been dropped off in Goodyear, the driver of our van confessed that he (and his two brothers) had also played Major League Baseball. I was amazed. I had just arrived in town, and I was already engulfed in baseball stories told by the agent and a retired player. My driver had played with the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. He explained that having listened to the agent's talk, he thought the man was probably dealing with minor league players, young men who showed great potential at age 16 and older in places as diverse as Japan and the Caribbean.

Before leaving home I had purchased tickets for a San Francisco Giants versus Texas Rangers afternoon game at the stadium in Surprise, Ariz., for my husband and me. We also had tickets for an Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Texas Rangers at the same stadium. I ordered the tickets online and printed them out myself. We decided to purchase the rest of the tickets we needed at the stadiums for the games we wanted to attend.

In between spring baseball games, fans can visit parks, museums, the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo and a multitude of golf courses. There were almost as many golf clubs as suitcases on my flight. The first weekend I arrived, I visited the famous Heard Museum on Central Avenue for the annual Indian Fair and Market, a fantastic show.

Phoenix now has an amazing new Metro Light Rail Alignment

with stops at the Phoenix Spectrum Mall, where it's possible to park your car before boarding. Other stations include Park Central Mall, Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Orpheum Theatre, Dodge Theatre and Historic Heritage Square. You can also get off at Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play; the Phoenix Convention Center; Arizona Science Center; Pueblo Grande Museum (where you can pick up a Phoenix Airport shuttle); Arizona State University; and finally Mesa.

Outside of town there are drives to see the spectacular wildflowers that pop up at this time of year (depending on rain), such as Mexican gold poppies, desert primrose, Arizona poppies and Coulter's lupines.

Or take a ride on the old U.S. Route 60-93 to the authentic Western town of Wickenburg to view some gorgeous saguaro cactus, go shopping for beautiful Native American art and jewelry in the shops, and feast on Mexican food at Anita's. One of my favorite Wickenburg museums is the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, which has some really fine original paintings and sculptures plus interesting special exhibits.

WHEN YOU GO

Picking a hotel in the Phoenix area will depend on the location of the baseball team you are most interested in watching. The San Francisco Giants Stadium is located in Scottsdale. Since this area is dense and expensive, I prefer heading farther west to find a hotel or condo in the areas of Peoria or Surprise. An Internet search will yield a huge selection.

Cactus League teams are located in the following stadiums.

Arizona Diamondback and Colorado Rockies: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale

San Francisco Giants: Scottsdale Stadium, 7408 E. Osborn, Scottsdale

Chicago Cubs: Hohokam Park, 1235 N. Center St., Mesa

Milwaukee Brewers: Maryvale Baseball Park, 3600 N. 51st Ave., Phoenix

Angels Baseball: Tempe Diablo Stadium, 2200 W. Alameda Drive, Tempe

Oakland Athletics: Phoenix Municipal Stadium, 5999 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix

Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox: Camelback Ranch, 10710 W. Camelback Rd., Glendale

Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds: Goodyear Ballpark, 1933 S. Ballpark Way, Goodyear

San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners: Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria

Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers: Surprise Recreation Campus, 15850 N. Bullard Ave., Surprise

In 2014 the Chicago Cubs will move to a new stadium near Riverview Park, just east of the Loop 1001 and Loop 202 freeway interchange. When that happens, the Oakland A's are considering a move to the Hohokam Stadium to replace the Cubs.

Major League spring training games run from late February through March with several special exhibition games. For schedules and ticket information, visit www.cactusleague.com, www.mlb.com., www.cactus.azcentral.com or the league blog network at www.springtraininginformation.com.

A new divided highway leads to Wickenburg, an old Western town approximately 52 miles northwest of Phoenix. When you arrive, a confusing roundabout may send you around in circles. Stay in the middle lane and then go right to get to the downtown area. Anita's Cocina is located at 57 N. Valentine, 928-684-5777.

Patricia Arrigoni is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM




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