Sporting Events

An insider’s guide to the Arizona Cactus League’s ballparks and culinary scene

Buy me some craft beer and Sonoran Hot Dogs, I don’t care if I never get back 
By Charlie Vascellaro 

PLEASE NOTE – As of March 12, 2020, the remainder of the Cactus League Spring Training season has been cancelled. For questions, please visit https://cactusleague.com/.

While major league baseball’s spring training season coincides and overlaps with the spring break season, there’s always a feeling of playing hooky associated with whiling away a lazy afternoon at any of Arizona’s romantic Cactus League ballparks. 

All the clichés apply when it comes to baseball in the spring in Arizona, it’s a time of hope, rebirth and renewal for players and fans. There’s always something new on the Arizona Cactus League horizon but eternally nestled in the context of a nostalgic backdrop like the foothills of the Twin Buttes just beyond the outfield fence at Tempe Diablo Stadium. 

Albert Pujols at Spring Training
Albert Pujols at Spring Training Game

This year the Los Angeles Angels added All-Star free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon to a potent batting order that includes teammates Mike Trout and Albert Pujols who have batted third and fourth respectively in the Angels lineup for the past eight years. Trout is just 28 years old and signed through the next decade. Rendon is 29 and signed with the Angels through 2026. The pair was referred to in MLB’s Duo Power rankings as possibly the best teammates in the game.   

Tempe Diablo Stadium (Los Angeles Angels)

Originally opened in 1969 as the spring training home of the one-season wonder Seattle Pilots, (the team spent two spring seasons in Tempe as the Pilots before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers just prior to Opening Day in 1970) Tempe Diablo Stadium (2200 West Alameda Drive) is now the longest continually operational ballpark in the Cactus League and an iconic local landmark.  The Angels arrived in 1993 and are under contract with the city through 2025.

The sloping parking lot in front of the main entrance on the first base side fills up quickly as does the lot beyond the outfield wall but there is plenty of parking along the curbsides of the surrounding office park neighborhood with rickshaw bicyclists offering rides to the ballpark for a nominal fee.

Get there early if you’re seeking autographs. The home team Angels take pre-game batting practice on the practice field next to the parking lot on the west side of the stadium. After batting practice, the players walk from the practice field to the main field along the top of the parking lot. The visiting team enters the ballpark from the other parking lot behind the outfield wall accessing the ballpark by the right field corner. Players from both teams will often sign autographs down the ends of both outfield lines before the games begin. 

Tempe Diablo Stadium field
Helmet Nachos and Beer
  • Once you’re inside the ballpark, the Tempe TapRoom located on the third base side of the concourse makes for an appropriate first pit-stop to grab a cold Sunbru Kölsch-Style Ale from the local Four Peaks Brewing Company in addition to other beer selections.  The wide-open left field concourse is lined with specialty food tents offering tacos, BBQ and pizza but the signature food item at Tempe Diablo Stadium is the nachos served in an Angels batting helmet that can be worn later or during the game depending on how much beer you’ve consumed.   

If you prefer happy hour over rush hour, the Lobby Lounge or Top of the Rock at the Marriott Resort Phoenix Tempe at The Buttes offers a peaceful respite with a view while you wait out the traffic.  
 
Tempe has also become a hotbed for local craft breweries all located within a short distance from Tempe Diablo Stadium including:  
Pedal Haus Brewery – 730 S. Mill Ave., Tempe 
Huss Brewing Co. - 1520 W. Mineral Rd., Tempe 
The Shop Beer Co. – 922 West 1st St., Tempe 
Four Peaks Brewing Company, 1340 E. 8th St., Tempe 

The Taste of Tops beer bar at 403 W. University Dr., an extension of its neighboring Tops Liquors retail store, presents a rotation of 31 top-shelf micro brewed, imported and locally brewed draft beers and hundreds of bottled beers. Arizona Brewery Tours offers “One Hop at a Time” guided and custom bus tours that travel from one microbrewery to the next. There are public and private tour (check for rates) options on comfortable shuttle buses making stops at local tap rooms and breweries. 

The Cactus League hosts 15 Major League teams in 10 ballparks within an approximate 35-mile radius of each other with five ballparks located on the east side of the Greater Phoenix Metro region and five on the west side:  

Hohokam Stadium (Oakland A’s) 

In its third incarnation, the current Hohokam Stadium (1235 N. Center St.) originally opened in 1997 replacing its predecessor on the opposite corner of Brown and Center streets in Mesa. Hohokam underwent major renovations in 2015 when the Oakland A’s replaced the Chicago Cubs as spring tenants. The A’s and Cubs have occupied Hohokam ballparks old and new since 1977. A pair of large grass parking lots are accessible from Center Street and there is a smaller paved lot right in front of the ballpark.  

The best place to get autographs is at the end of the right field line where the visiting team’s players board the team bus after the game. The A’s players exit the ballpark from the team’s clubhouse on the concourse behind the first base grandstand.  Prior to the game, the A’s players are easily accessible at the Lew Wolff Training Complex at nearby Fitch Park where the team conducts pre-game workouts and is the year-round home of the A’s minor league and player development operations.  

The Oakland Dog with green chile mac and cheese and bacon bits and the California Dog with guacamole, tomatoes and jack cheese are available at Oakland Links on the third base side of the concourse. Ike’s Love and Sandwiches is an outpost of an Oakland favorite, located on the first base side of the concourse by the cocktail bar.  

After the game the Cellar Pub at the Sun Devil Liquors (235 N. Country Club Dr., Mesa) is a great place to cool down. Located just across the street is the authentic Original Blue Adobe Grill, 144 N. Country Club Dr., Mesa, featuring Hatch Red and Green Chille sauces and New Mexican cuisine.

Salt River Fields (Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies) 

Still the first and only MLB facility built on Native American Land, Salt River Fields (7555 N. Pima Rd.) at Talking Stick has been the shared spring training home and minor league operations headquarters of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies since 2011. Salt River Fields was recently named the best spring training ballpark of the decade by Ball Park Digest, a media company that covers the business and culture of Major League Baseball as well as the minor leagues and college levels.     

Both the Diamondbacks and Rockies conduct early morning practice sessions at Salt River Fields that are also open to the public and a great place to gather autographs. Players and fans share the concrete walkways winding their way through the 12 practice fields, batting cages, and each team’s clubhouses that surround the main ballpark.  The workouts usually run from about 9:00 a.m. to noon. The entire complex is masterfully sculpted into the desert landscape and doubles as a public park and educational botanical garden complete with labels identifying the varieties of cacti and flora.    

There are a plethora of food concessions circling the entire concourse at Salt River Fields including the 101 Cattle Co., where you’ll find a half-pound burger topped with peanut butter, cheddar cheese, bacon, sautéed jalapenos and a sweet chile jam. The Sonoran BBQ serves shredded adobo pork with lime-scented cabbage, pickled red onions and cilantro crema in its pork carnitas taco. But perhaps the signature concession offering is the foot-long Sonoran hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with jalapenos and crema sauce.  

Arizona and Colorado craft beers are featured in locations long the concourse on the first and third baselines. New for this season is the Malibu Rum patio bar located by the left field entrance gate.

After the game take Pima Road north for about a mile then turn right onto Via de Ventura and you’ll find yourself at the comfortable and welcoming Backyards Patio Sports Lounge (9261 E. Via de Ventura) where ballpark beer vendors and other workers go to relax after the game.  

Scottsdale Stadium (S.F. Giants)  

Freshly spiffed up for the new season, Scottsdale Stadium has undergone the first round in a series of ongoing renovations that includes an extension of the Charros Lodge premium party patio just behind the Giants’ bullpen in right field and a 10,000 square-foot new home team clubhouse and year-round event center. 
 
The cozy confines of Scottsdale Stadium’s original footprint established in 1956 creates an intimate environment conducive to the old fashioned practice of players signing autographs right next to their team’s dugouts for about a half-hour before the game begins. Giants fans might also find the players exiting the clubhouse by Gate B on the first base side after the game. 

The enticing aroma of barbecue permeates the concourse at Dan and Charlie’s behind home plate and down the outfield lines with variety of culinary delights creating a busy scene of its own almost separate and aside from the game. Tastes of San Francisco includes garlic fries and familiar Anchor Steam and Lagunitas hometown brews. 

Before and after the game, Karsen’s Grill (7246 E. 1st St.) features Southwestern inspired regional cuisine and has been a favorite watering hole and gathering place among visiting fans, locals, MLB umpires, scouts, city officials, and ballpark staff since before many of the current players were born.    

 Sloan Park (Chicago Cubs)  

Entering its seventh spring training season, everything still feels brand new at the Chicago Cub’s Wrigleyville West home away from home, Sloan Park (2330 W. Rio Salado Pkwy.) in Mesa. Surrounded by the Mesa Riverview retail and entertainment district and Riverview Park at the crossroads of Mesa and Tempe, Sloan Park is bordered by its expansive practice field facility and a pair of large paid parking lots. In addition, Mesa Riverview and Tempe Marketplace both offer free baseball parking and trolley rides to and from the park.  

The dirt path that connects the Cubs clubhouse and training complex to Sloan Park looks like the Academy Awards red carpet lined on both sides by adoring fans providing the ballpark’s best opportunities for autographs before and after the game.  

Windy City flavors abound around the concourse and on the food court that fills the area behind the outfield berms. Traditional Italian Beef sandwiches, Chicago-style hot dogs and huge foot-longs can be found along first baseline close to the replica Wrigley Field Marquee. 

Legendary vendor “Mark the Beer Guy,” works the field level seat section behind home plate and the immediately surrounding concourse carrying plenty of ice cold Old Style and other canned offerings and will present you with his the latest issue of his vendor card series upon request.    

The Mesa/Chandler/Gilbert corridor has become a bastion of breweries in recent years including the original Arizona Wilderness (721 N. Arizona Ave.) in Gilbert and Goldwater Brewing Company’s Longbow Taproom (5942 E. Longbow Pkwy.) and the Barrio Brewing Company restaurant (5803 S. Sossaman Rd.) in Mesa. 

Old timers and locals go to Los Dos Molinos Mesa (260 S. Alma School Rd.) for blazing hot red and green salsas and authentic Santa Fe, New Mexican cuisine.  

West Side Story 

The Cactus League’s westward expansion began with the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres moving into the Peoria Sports Complex (15707 N. 83rd Ave.) as co-tenants in 1994.  The Mariners have previously occupied Tempe Diablo Stadium since their inception as a Major League expansion team in 1977. The Padres historically held their spring camp in Yuma, AZ from 1969-1993.  

The Milwaukee Brewers opened the Maryvale Baseball Park in 1997 and the facility received $60 million worth of improvements and renovations and was renamed American Family Fields of Phoenix (3805 N. 53rd Ave.), ensuring the team will remain in Maryvale for the next 25 years.  

The addition of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals to the Cactus League and the opening of Surprise Stadium (15960 N. Bullard Ave.) sparked the continued expansion of the league and its westward migration in 2003. At the top of various lists of spring training ballpark rankings, Surprise Stadium has often been heralded as a perfect place to see a ballgame in the spring. 

The team’s departure from its longtime Dodgertown spring training facility in Vera Beach, Florida to the Camelback Ranch (10710 W. Camelback Rd.) facility in Glendale was almost was as dramatic as the Dodgers’ franchise move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. The Dodgers joined the Chicago White Sox in Glendale in 2009.  

Rounding out the Cactus League’s roster of 15 major league teams in 10 ballparks, the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds share the Goodyear Ballpark (933 S. Ballpark Way) at the far reaches of the west valley.  

About the Author

Author, traveler, historian, bibliophile, bartender, and baseball fan, when Charlie Vascellaro first discovered Major League Baseball in Arizona, his junior high school attendance suffered. Thirty years later, Vascellaro still takes a month-long hiatus from his life in Baltimore, MD to make an annual pilgrimage to Arizona for Cactus League Spring Training. A former 20-year resident of Arizona, Vascellaro is a constant contributor to many of the Cactus League teams’ spring training programs as well as many local/regional publications such as Phoenix,Arizona Key and the ASU Alumni magazine.  His previews and travel stories appear annually in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and various travel, tourism and baseball publications. He has also written on social and cultural affairs for MLB.com and the Smithsonian Institutes Museum of the Native American magazine. A frequent speaker on the academic baseball circuit, he makes regular presentations at the NINE baseball conference in Arizona each spring and has been an instructor/presenter for the Road Scholar/Elderhostel continuing education program for the past 15 years. 

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