Cactus League Tour - Day Four

Day four - our final day in in Phoenix for the Cactus League.  We had a decision to make.  We had vowed to see 4 ballparks in 4 days.  With 16 teams training we chose the best games possible each day so we could see our favorite teams and players.  The Pads and Angels were must sees.  And we agreed the Reds were in.  That left day four and my son really wanted to see the San Francisco Giants.  As a Padre fan I loath all other NL West teams.  I respect the Giants, even like some of the players and manager Bruce Bochy,  but they are constantly beating up on my Pads so I'm not a fan of the team.  There was one other option that was in the general area of the Giants ballpark.  The Rockies and Diamondbacks (also both NL West teams) built a new complex a few miles from the Giants facility.  I mapped it on my phone, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, and was surprised by the satellite view.  The complex was still under construction with backhoes sitting in the stadium bowl.  If nothing else, this was going to worth a drive by to check it out.  So we set out extra early with the plan to drive by both stadiums, get a vibe for each, and then pick our game for the day.  The San Francisco Giants play at Scottsdale Stadium.  It's built right into this working class neighborhood.  Right up our alley!  Great old stadium with lots of local flavor.  But to be fair we had to drive by Salt River Fields and check it out.  It's only about 10 minutes away but it's a world apart.  It's on the outskirts of town.  Their neighbors are sprawling malls.  Not our scene.  The facility is indeed brand new.  The backhoes are gone.  It looks like a country club.  Every blade of grass has seemingly been manicured.  The players have every amenity they can imagine and some they can't, I'm sure.  The walkways between fields are landscaped and pristine.  It's an impressive facility and I look forward to checking it out next time we're there, but for this last day of our trip, our sensibilities lie with the "inner city" and Scottsdale Stadium.  So after our brief tour of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick we headed back to Scottsdale Stadium.  The Giants were playing the Chicago White Sox.  No big draw there.  We were there to see the World Champion SF Giants.  My son has many favorite players on the Giants - Pablo Sandoval (Kung-fu Panda), Hunter Pence (who he's convinced hits the hardest ball in all of baseball), Buster Posey, and Sergio Romo, to name just a few.  The big side show of the day was the display of the World Series trophy, which the Giants won last October.  You could have your picture taken with it by a professional photographer.  It's smaller that it looks on TV, but still pretty cool.  Another pleasant surprise was the SF Giants starting line-up.  While we had become accustomed to seeing a bunch of scrubs start and play in the games we had seen thus far, SF looked to be starting almost all of their regulars, including one of their regular starting pitchers, Madison Bumgarner.  So if I was going to endure watching the hated Giants, at least I was going to see the "real" SF Giants.  Just like the previous 2 days we arrived in plenty of time for my son to get on the first base rail and get some autographs.  This time, like the Reds, the players were out and signing, chatting up the crowd.  Many of the regulars took time to sign and pose for pix. Far cry from the previous day in Tempe and the Angels.  The game was fun even though the Giants ran out to a huge lead.  And as if to prove my son's point, Hunter Pence hit a rocket shot to straight away center he legged out for a triple.  We spent much of the game wandering and checking out the various angles and features of the stadium.  Just as we were getting ready to leave the Chi Sox loaded the bases and the PA announcer alerted the crowd of a pitching change. "Coming in to pitch for the Giants, Brett Bochy."  We decided to stick around and see how manager Bruce Bochy's son would fair in this situation. was not pretty.  Brett allowed 7 runs in 2/3 of an inning.  He gave up a ground rule double and a grand slam allowing the Chi'Sox to come back from a 7 run deficit and tie it.  At that point we decided to call it a day.  Our tour of Spring Training and the Cactus League had been a great experience.  But we had a long drive ahead of us.....

Starting Line-Ups

World Series Champion Angel

Chalking the Lines - Actually painting....

Pregame stretch

Angel Pagan honing his swing

Hunter Pence signing autographs

Beer Man!

Sergio Romo getting in some work - Da' socks!

Chi'sox Bullpen

Cactus League Tour - Day Three

Day 3 arrived with much anticipation.  We were scheduled to see the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles (or whatever their current / correct name is) vs the Oakland A's at Tempe Diablo Stadium.  And with anticipation often times comes disappointment.... We should have known something was up when we arrived at the ballpark and the wind was howling and the temperature was considerably cooler than the previous 2 days.  But we were here to see the Angels and their big time stars.  The Angels have been the talk of the baseball off-season having signed coveted free agent Josh Hamilton to go along with last year's marquee signings of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. They also have last year's rookie sensation Mike Trout, to go along with many many more stars - a wealth of talent worthy of the New York Yankees.  The anti-Padres if you will.... But that does not always translate to a winning "team" as their inability to make the playoffs last year can attest. This was the one "must see" game and team for my son and I  on our Cactus League tour (other than the Padres which my son could have easily left off the itinerary).  We were both excited to see the new players the Angels had signed and the breakout players from last season, particularly Mike Trout.  My son got several great autographs from the Reds the previous day so he wanted to arrive extra early to get in position to get the most and best signatures.  Seems he wasn't the only one with that idea.  Right away you noticed the vibe was different and it started with the size of the crowds.  Granted it was a Sunday so the crowd was a little larger than we probably would have seen mid week, but it was still manageable.  While the first 2 venues we had gone to (Peoria and Goodyear) had been laid back and casual, this had more the feeling of a regular season game at a pro ballpark.  The players big timed the fans and the fans in turn big timed each other.  It wasn't an ugly scene by any stretch, it just wasn't what we had experienced the previous 2 days and had come to expect at Spring Training.  I don't think more than 3 players signed or stopped by to chat with the fans.  Mark Trumbo was the only regular that started and played for the Angels.  Mike Trout strode by the first base line at some point but Hamilton and Pujols were nowhere to be seen.  All was not lost and there were definitely some highlights.  Mark Trumbo's batting practice in particular.  The guy was hitting rockets into and over the left field berm.  He was absolutely crushing the ball.  The game was fun and the A's played well.  It was fun to watch Cuban defector Yoenis Céspedes.    This guy has the potential to be a huge star for the A's.  All in all it was a great day at the ballpark, albeit very cold.  Much of the time it's hard to live up to expectations.  The best times come when you're not expecting them.  But while this was a disappointing day based on our expectations it was still time well spent watching baseball and hanging at the yard.

Angels Camp

Coco Crisp Arriving

The Loyal Fans

The Grounds Crew - Pregame Water

Safe at Third

Oakland A's First Base Coach Tye Waller tossing a ball into the stands

Cactus League Tour - Day Two

Day 2 in Phoenix found us in Goodyear at the 4 year old Goodyear Ballpark.  It's a beautiful ballpark.  It's located west of Phoenix in what could pass for farmland in the desert.  The stadium is perfectly manicured and looked like it had just opened yesterday.  The Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians share the facility.  They were our match-up for the day.  We arrived early to survey the scene and see which players would be milling about.  The Big Red Machine was my childhood team.  I loved the Reds of the 70's and can recite their starting line-up to this day.  Like my son, I was a front runner and didn't come to appreciate my home town Pads until later.  To this day I have a soft spot for the Reds.  These 2013 Cincinnati Reds are fan friendly and a little goofy - a lot goofy in the case of Matt Latos. Most players interspersed their pregame routine with autographs and interaction with the fans - interaction with a cop in Latos's case.  Billy Hamilton is the exciting young player all the Cincinnati fans are excited about.   He spent a good amount of time signing and chatting with the crowd.    He's with the big league club this spring but is not slated to stick with the major league team until 2014.  He stole some obscene number of bases in the minors last year so we were looking forward to watching him play.  In his 2 at bats he tried unsuccessfully to get on with a drag bunt and then struck out looking.  We never got to see him light up the base paths.  The other fan favorite is Brandon Phillips.  I know what he brings as a player (2× All-Star, 3× Gold Glove winner, Silver Slugger winner, 30–30 club 2012, Defensive Player of the Year) but I'd also heard great things about his personality and approach.  The first thing you notice is the smile - big, bright, contagious.  Whether signing baseballs or turning a double play, he was constantly smiling.  He really seems to understand this is a game.  These guys have the privilege of playing a game for a living.  Granted it's very hard work and very few make it, but ultimately it's just a bunch of grown kids playing a kids game for a ton of money.  What's not to smile about?

The future of the Reds get limber

Matt Latos signing

Mr. Redlegs

Brandon Phillips with Goodyear Ballpark mascot Zizzy

Reds phenom Billy Hamilton

Cabrera running the track between innings

Brandon Phillips - Done for the day

Cactus League Tour - Day One

I'd never been to Spring Training in Arizona before, despite being a lifelong baseball fan and living in such close proximity to Pheonix.  So last week I packed up some gear and headed out to the Cactus League with my oldest son.  He has turned into a huge baseball fan himself, however he doesn't share my love of our hometown boys, the Padres.  He is, as I was when I was at his age, more interested in the players and the teams that make it to the playoffs and win World Championships.   So our first stop, to his protests, was the Peoria Sports Complex for the Cactus League opening day match-up between the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners.  The weather couldn't have been nicer - sunny skies and mid 60's.  The game itself was out of control after half an inning with the Pads second base prospect Jedd Gyorko going deep in the top half of the first with a grand slam.  The Pads lead 6-0 after half an inning, never looking back, as they cruised to a 9-3 victory.   Both teams only started a handful of the expected opening day starters, though the quality of baseball was good and it was good to relax and enjoy some live action.  The Peoria Sports Complex looks relatively new and offers a great array of food and the other stuff that all the major leagues parks now offer to give you that "complete entertainment experience".  Seems it's no longer enough to offer just a baseball game.  To that end, my boy brought the heat at the speed pitch, topping out at 71mph, which was good enough to take his age group.  The stadium is so small that every seat in the house is great.  And the vibe from both the fans and the players was super laid back.  We knew we were in for a great weekend after a great start here in Peoria.

Peoria Sports Complex - Spring training home to the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners

San Diego Padres vs Seattle Mariners

Evereth Cabrera


The Grounds Crew

Bat Boy

Will Veneble - Done for the Day

Soaking in the AZ sun