Originally posted on BaseballArizona.com in 2000, back when we didn't know that Sammy Sosa and the A's lineup were chemically enhanced.
There was a St. Patrick's Day party at Phoenix Municipal Stadium March 17 and a baseball game broke out. More than 9,500 packed into the old stadium nominally to see the Green and Gold Oakland A's attempt to extend their nine-game winning streak.
The fact that Seattle prevailed 9-5 didn't seem to cause any great concern. Since the seating capacity of the the stadium is less than 8,800 and there is no lawn seating, 700 or more fans had to cluster along the rails and in many cases seemed more interested in the St. Pat's festivities than the game.
So my Cactus League odyssey that began in rain-soaked Municipal Stadium March 5 ended in green beer-soaked Municipal Stadium 12 days later. In between I managed to see all 10 Cactus League teams at least once, and seven of the eight stadiums (missing Tucson Hi Corbett this time around). Here are some of my conclusions about this year's experience:
MVP: Sammy Sosa. Duh!
Cy Young: There are no Cy Youngs at this stage of the season.
Gold Glove: Center fielder Marquis Grissom of the Brewers for his March 15 game against the Cubs, running down a number of long flies. Honorable mention, Mike Cameron of the Mariners March 17.
Idiot of the Month: Cameron made several fine catches against the A's but he couldn't quite reach one long drive (right), prompting one bozo to say, "Griffey would have had that." Such a comment makes as much sense as criticizing Giants center fielder Marvin Bernard for missing a play that Willie Mays would have made. Griffey is 2,500 miles away in Florida and he's not coming back, so GET OVER IT!
Most disappointing: I saw the Mariners twice but Alex Rodriguez didn't play in either game.
Best overall experience: Mesa's HoHoKam Park, home of the Cubs. Fans turns out in droves, which is good because it's the biggest spring training park. There is comfortable seating, and a large lawn for those so inclined. The major downside seems to be parking and traffic, which I didn't have to deal with because I was within walking distance.
Most comfortable seating: In addition to HoHoKam, Maryvale Park.
Worst stadium: All of the facilities are good but they are not equal, and the St. Patrick's Day overflow crowd accentuated the shortcomings of Phoenix Municipal. There is no lawn, so people were packed 3-4 deep along the rails behind the stands. A large proportion of the seating is benches instead of chairs. The parking is relatively expensive at $5. However, it's still worth going there because....
Best team: Oakland Athletics. You get the feeling every guy in the lineup is about to line one off or over the wall.
Worst team: Sorry, Milwaukee Brewers. The Giants have a worse record, but in the games I saw the Brewers had a feeling of futility about them.
Best food: Additional research is still required, which is difficult to do since price-gouging is as prevalent in the Cactus League as at probably every other sports venue in the country. Some of the sponsoring organizations justify the prices by saying that the proceeds support community organizations. Why that makes a dinky cup of Pepsi worth $2.75, I don't know. Anyway, try the excellent burritos at the restaurant stands in Tucson Electric Park.
Free stuff: The Angels, desperately trying to give fans a reason to show up at Tempe Diablo, gave away batting gloves at one game and duffel bags at another. Since my luggage mysteriously increased in mass by 20% during the two weeks, I really appreciated getting that duffel bag. The Diamondbacks gave away baseballs.
The only advance tickets I bought were for the Cubs home games. For all the rest of the teams except the Giants, you can probably get decent seats for most games without ordering months ahead of time. Next year I'll probably order both Cubs and Giants tickets in advance, which is made slightly more difficult because they use different ticket agencies.
If you are still trying to get a handle of the Cactus League experience, it might be useful to go back and review my comments from last year's trip. Most of them still apply, with the following exceptions: (1) The vacant lot near Scottsdale Stadium is being built on; (2) I had a little better luck with the traffic around Maryvale this year, but I was only there once so it's impossible to generalize.