If you’re a baseball fan, then you’ve probably planned out your ideal vacation. No, not Hawaii, South America, or Mount Everest. Baseball fans just want to jump in the car and make the drive from coast to coast, taking in a game at every Major League Baseball ballpark. The alternative is to spend a week in the Valley of the Sun during spring training (www.cactusleague.com ).
For baseball fans, it’s an annual rite as quintessential as peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Beginning in February, 15 Major League Baseball teams descend upon Arizona, allowing fans to catch a game — or two — every day until early April. There really isn’t a bad ballpark in the Cactus League. Each place has its own unique qualities.
The key is to pick out a couple of teams you want to see and then plan accordingly. Remember to get there early, because most of the big-name players leave the game after a couple of innings, but that’s also when you’ll see the stars of tomorrow.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox share the brand-new Camelback Ranch (10710 W. Camelback Rd., 623/877-8585) stadium in Glendale. The park is about 10 miles west of Phoenix , right across Highway 101 (Loop 101) from the Westgate City Center and University of Phoenix Stadium. Outside, you’ll find a nice lake to walk around, and be sure to check out the replicas of Ebbets Field and Comiskey Park.
Take the 101 to the I-10 east, and you’re likely to spot more than a few Ohio license plates. The Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians just moved to the new Goodyear Ballpark (1933 S. Ballpark Way, 623/882-3120), in Goodyear, a town 20 miles southwest of Phoenix that’s named after the Ohio-based tire company. You can enjoy a view of the Sierra Estrella and White Tank Mountains from some seats in the ballpark.
Follow the smell of brats a few minutes east on the I-10. The Milwaukee Brewers are the only tenant at Maryvale Stadium (3600 N. 51st Ave., 623/245-5555), built in 1998. It’s in one of Phoenix’s older neighborhoods, but the park itself is one of the most serene in the Cactus League. Tickets are usually available, and even if the game is out-of-hand, be sure to stick around for the popular sausage race.
Continue on I-10 toward Tucson  and you will be able to see right field in Tempe Diablo Stadium (2200 W. Alameda Dr., 480/350-5205) from the freeway. The stadium has hosted spring training games since the 1960s, and it underwent a $20 million renovation in 2006. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim consistently lead the Cactus League in attendance. This is a popular pastime for Arizona State University  students.
The Oakland A’s also play a stone’s throw from campus at Phoenix Municipal “Muni” Stadium (5999 E. Van Buren, 602/392-0074), which recently underwent a major renovation — and another one is on the way. Seats offers great views of Papago Park ’s six-million-year-old rock formations.
Keep heading east on Highway 202 (Loop 202), and you’ll come across the toughest ticket in the Cactus League. Hohokam Park (1235 N. Center St., 480/964-4467) is the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs, the team that earns a fanatical following despite a less-than-stellar World Series record. The stadium was built in 1987 but has a very retro ’50s feel. It’s the best place in the Cactus League to get autographs and pictures with the players.
Heading back west on Highway 202 (Loop 202), stop off smack dab in the middle of Scottsdale , home of the San Francisco Giants. There is a really cool picture on the press box wall from when the Red Sox used to train at the old stadium in the 1950s, when the stadium was in the middle of a farm. There’s really never a bad time to take in a game at Scottsdale Stadium (7408 E. Osborn Rd., 480/312-2580), with all the dinner and entertainment options now right outside the park.
Back on the west side, exit Highway 101 at Bell Road. The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres play a couple blocks to the south at Peoria Sports Complex (16101 N. 83rd Ave., 623/773-8700). Many consider the park the best in the Cactus League. Every seat feels like it’s right on top of the action, and you don’t feel crammed if it’s a sellout crowd. It also features the best lawn seating in the city.
Head north on Bell Road and you’ll end up in Surprise, home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. Surprise Recreation Campus (15850 N. Bullard Ave., 623/222-2222) is a hike from Phoenix  but it’s the best place to bring a family. There’s plenty of room to play catch and tailgate in the parking lot. It’s also a great park to walk around while the game is going on because you can always see the action.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies train in Tucson , about 90 minutes south of Phoenix. Both teams will be moving to the Valley, though, in 2011.
(Contributed by Mark McClune, host/reporter, FOX Sports Arizona)