Baseball season may still be a few weeks away, but in Arizona the sport is in “full swing” for spring training.
If you’re into baseball, you already know that spring training is a chance to get a sneak peek at the 2020 Padres team, interact with players and other fans, and watch games against teams that don’t usually get to Petco Park.
But you also don’t need to be a diehard sports fan to enjoy a weekend of baseball in Arizona. If you’re in the mood for a road trip, spring training is a quick (just over five hours) and affordable option.
Here’s what you need to know:
How it works
Spring training is split evenly between Major League Baseball’s 30 teams.
The Padres are part of the 15 teams that spend their pre-season in Arizona’s Cactus League, along with the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs among others.
Florida’s Grapefruit League is home to the other half. But unlike Florida, where many of the stadiums are hours away, everything in the Cactus League is within Phoenix’s metropolitan area, making it a breeze to get accommodations – regardless of which games you’re attending.
Of their 31-game schedule, the Padres will spend just over half at their home base, the Peoria Sports Complex. But like all of the teams that play in the Phoenix suburbs, they’ll travel all over the surrounding valley, sometimes even splitting the team in two for games in different areas.
Where to stay
If the plan is to catch both “home” and “away” games, it’s a good idea to stay in a centrally located area like Scottsdale.
The last time I was there with my wife and grade-school-aged children, we stayed at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a family-friendly, service-oriented resort that offers everything from PGA golf courses to kid-friendly amenities like fishing ponds and a pool with dual water slides (one of five pools on the property).
There are numerous places to stay all over the valley, but we were extremely impressed with the Fairmont’s ability to successfully cater to each of us during our stay.
What to do
The areas surrounding Phoenix provide countless things to do outside of baseball as well.
- Desert Botanical Garden: A 140-acre site housing more than 55,000 plants
- Heard Museum: A museum that showcases American Indian art from a first-person perspective
- Arizona Science Center: A family-friendly, interactive science museum
- Phoenix Art Museum: The largest art museum in the Southwest, with collections and exhibitions from around the world
- Musical Instrument Museum: home to more than 7,000 instruments from 200 countries
I even took our foursome to an all-ages show at The Van Buren in downtown Phoenix – a music venue which is set to host performances by Thundrcat, Orville Peck, Third Eye Blind, Lane 8 and more during the time the Padres are there.
The baseball games
But the games themselves are the real highlight.
While it’s true that spring training is used for a multitude of things, from working out new players to scouting up-and-coming minor league talent, at least four major league starters are in the lineup each game, so the people paying for tickets definitely get to see some of the guys who play regularly.
Also, tickets to a spring training game range from $12 to $40, making them much more affordable than those in the regular season. They also provide a far more personal experience than seeing the game in a traditional big league stadium. Even though play might start at 1 p.m. on a given day, workouts start at 9 a.m. and the public is allowed to be there for all of it.
Spring training history
Spring training has existed almost as long as baseball itself, and has been held in locales all over the globe, from Arkansas, New Orleans and Catalina Island to Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
From 1970 to 1993, the Padres called the Desert Sun Stadium in Yuma their Spring Training home, a facility that is now primarily used for soccer. In 1994, the Padres moved just outside of Phoenix to the Peoria Sports Complex and have been there ever since.
Take it from an expert
If anyone knows spring training in Arizona, it’s Tim Flannery.
As a longtime Padres player and coach, as well as a three-time World Series-winning coach with the San Francisco Giants, Flannery spent 25 years in the big leagues.
Coupled with the years he spent managing at the minor league level and as a Padres/Giants radio analyst, Flannery has logged nearly four decades of baseball in the desert.
“That’s what blows people’s minds,” the MLB veteran and Padre favorite said recently. “I’ve done every single spring training in Arizona. I was never in the other league. That’s pretty unique. Guys just change teams so much.”
Flannery, who still heads out to spring training as a “fake coach” of the San Francisco Giants – the team for which he still calls 60 or so TV games a year, cosigns on the fan-friendly environment of the experience.
“The Peoria Sports Complex is great,” he said. “There are always guys putting in work or hanging around all the fields out there. And that always provides an access for fans that they can’t get anywhere else. If you go early, you really can get a full day of it.”
When he’s not doing baseball things, Flannery and his band, The Lunatic Fringe, play gigs all over the country. Proceeds from all tickets, albums, and downloads go to the non-profit, Love Harder Project, for programs that support anti-violence and anti-bullying.
The Padres play games in Arizona through March 23, tickets and information can be found at https://www.mlb.com/padres/tickets/spring-training