The satisfying crack of a wooden bat. The scent of hot dogs wafting by on a warm breeze. Spring arrives mid-February in Arizona, when 15 Cactus League teams take the field at 10 ballparks across the Phoenix area. While the league’s older parks have a more relaxed, intimate feel, newer, larger venues have made an effort to include areas where fans can have up-close views of players. Bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat, and get to the park early: Players often sign autographs before a game, and most of the time, big-name stars leave the field after a couple of innings. Stadiums and their teams, from west to east:
Take I-10 20 miles west of Phoenix for Goodyear Ballpark (1933 S. Ballpark Way, 623/882-3120), where the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians play. The stadium’s family-friendly vibe makes it a fan favorite, and it feels like home-away-from-home for Ohio natives.
Northwest of Phoenix off Bell Road, Surprise Stadium (15960 N. Bullard Ave., 623/222-2222) hosts the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. The campus includes more than a dozen practice fields and a five-acre lake, making this 10,400-seat stadium a favorite of families.
About 10 miles west of Phoenix, snazzy Camelback Ranch (10710 W. Camelback Rd., 623/877-8585) makes fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox feel at home with replicas of Ebbets Field and Comiskey Park. Opened in 2010, the stadium seats 13,000 and boasts its own citrus grove.
Near Loop 101 at Bell Road, the Peoria Sports Complex (16101 N. 83rd Ave., 623/773-8700) is home to the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. It has room for 12,000 fans, but this well-designed stadium keeps you feeling close to the action.
Just north of the I-10, Maryvale Stadium (3600 N. 51st Ave., 602/534-6449) stages the famed sausage race for Milwaukee Brewers fans. The 7,000-seat venue has a relaxed, open feel, with a grassy berm for outfield seating.
Southwest of Phoenix, tucked along the I-10 freeway, Tempe Diablo Stadium (2200 W. Alameda Dr., 480/350-5205) is home to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The 10,000 seats fill early, thanks to the stadium’s location near the heart of the Valley (and ASU).
East of downtown in Papago Park, Phoenix Municipal “Muni” Stadium (5999 E. Van Buren, 602/392-0074) hosts the Oakland Athletics. It’s the granddaddy of the spring training parks, built in 1965, but recent renovations (and great views of Papago Buttes) make this a pleasant spot for 8,000 fans.
In the middle of Scottsdale, with access to downtown shopping and entertainment, you’ll find 12,000-seat Scottsdale Stadium (7408 E. Osborn Rd., 480/312-2856), home of the San Francisco Giants.
Northeast of Phoenix, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (7555 N. Pima Rd., 480/270-5000) hosts the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. New in 2011, it’s the first Major League park to win LEED gold certification.
Just off Loop 202 in downtown Mesa, Hohokam Park (1235 N. Center St., 480/964-4467) is the current spring training locale of the Chicago Cubs. Plans are underway for the Cubbies to move in 2014 to a new 15,000-seat stadium at the intersection of Loops 101 and 202.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona.