This past week I went to baseball heaven, (no I didn’t die and the White Sox won another World Series), I flew down to Arizona for spring training and caught three games in three days.
If you ever want to feel “Hope Springs Eternal”, other than a early season Chicago Cubs day game, go to catch some Catcus League Baseball, its when literally every team is in first place and every fan is dreaming of seeing their team in the fall classic playing for a World Series Championship.
The first game was in the White Sox spring training home of Camelback Ranch in Glendale but the Sox were gone, so I saw the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Milwaukee Brewers in a beautiful day game. Camelback Ranch is a first class facility that every Dodger and White Sox should visit. it’s the largest (capacity 13,000), and premier place for baseball in the Phoenix Valley. The views are amazing and the food is great too (I got a world famous Dodger Dog, truly nothing like a good hot dog at the ballpark). And oh yeah there was a baseball game, it can not be overstated how Magic Johnson and his ownership group have spent money to put together a all star line up. That team is loaded and beat the beer out of a overmatched Milwaukee squad. And in Dodger tradition they have some nice prospects, look out National League West, there is a loaded and hired gun that if they live up to their payroll will make every game a battle.
In the spring baseball games I saw it looks like the major league stars and those who will make the trip up north with the big team play until the 6th inning and then the non roster invitees and those players designated for minor league assignment play the rest of the game out. You know them because for some teams they do not have their name on the back of their jerseys. Its like the unnamed red shirted ensigns in Star Trek that never return from away trips.
The next game was a night game in Surprise at the home of the Texas Rangers and they played the Kansas City Royals. Surprise is a beautiful community with a nice ballpark and hotels right in the middle but had congested traffic. It resembled Orland Park out south or Northbrook up north and had the traffic to go with it. Texas is a team in transition having lost some big time stars and having had a historic crash at the end of last season but manager Ron Washington seems to have a good team. The Royals seem to be well the Royals, with a lot of young talent (though have traded for former Tampa Rays starter James Shields), but not sure if it will translate to climbing out of the American League Central cellar. The Rangers beat them like the small market team the Royals have been for the last two decades.
The last game was at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the shared home of the Arizona Diamondbacks & Colorado Rockies in Scottsdale. I was staying in Scottsdale and it’s a expensive area that is beautiful and people are living lavish. It reminded me how the Gold Coast area of the north side was in the 80’s, the restaurants, houses & fancy cars. Salt River Fields was the only facility that had not only multiple practice fields but batting cages right as you walked up to the main field. It was very much like Camelback Ranch in Glendale but a little smaller but not a bad seat in the house. I saw the Arizona Diamondbacks play the San Diego Padres and it was a close game unlike the previous two. Some good National league pitching but then the Padres opened up a can of Southern California baseball in the later innings, very good baseball though.
Spring baseball is more exciting than regular season baseball, not sure if its because us baseball hardcore fans are in withdrawal or if us northerners are finally defrosting in the Arizona sun and enjoying something other than shoveling snow.
To top this trip off, on going home on the flight back to Chicago, sitting four rows on front of me was none other than Hall of Famer "Sweet Swinging" Billy Williams, nicest guy you'd ever want to meet, he took time to talk to all of us, take pictures and was funny and graceful. Tell me this baseball season won't be special.
In spring baseball the cheers are louder, the hits seem harder, the teams seem better and its all the romanticism that you envision of baseball, it’s the hope springs eternal that you hope never end.