Credit: Jeff Nyveen
The history of MLB Spring Training is almost as rich as baseball itself. The New York Mutuals were the first team to hold Spring Training outside of their home city when they traveled to New Orleans to prepare for the 1869 season. Since then, the policy of traveling to warmer climates in the baseball preseason has spread across the league, with Spring Training ultimately being separated into two leagues: the Cactus League in Arizona, and the Grapefruit League in Florida.
This year’s Cactus League Spring Training marks a welcome return to normalcy after
the COVID-19 pandemic and the MLB lockout last year. There’s a total of 15 MLB franchises playing at 10 stadiums in Arizona during the month of spring training, including both the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. The Cubs are based at Sloan Park in Mesa and will open against the San Francisco Giants on Feb. 25, while the White Sox are based in Camelback Ranch in Phoenix and open the same day against the San Diego Padres. The crosstown rivals also play each other four times this spring: March 17 at Camelback Ranch, and March 10, 27, and 28 at Sloan Park.
With nonstop flights available on American and United from Chicago O’Hare, and on Frontier from Chicago Midway to Phoenix Sky Harbor International, and average temperatures in the mid-70s in Arizona in late February and early March — a spring training trip is the perfect getaway for baseball fans wanting to escape the cold and witness their favorite players in action.
Sloan Park, Mesa
Sloan Park is the Wrigley Field of Spring Training Stadiums — it even boasts a pair of light towers, an outfield modeled on the Cubs’ home stadium bleachers, and a replica Wrigley Field sign. There also isn’t a bad seat in the house, with the open-plan design offering 360-degree views of the field. As baseball is such a family affair for all ages,
the stadium is located adjacent to Riverview Park, which features a 50-foot Genesis climbing tower; a caterpillar mesh rope structure, two playground areas, miles of walking trails, and a shaded picnic area.
Where to stay:
There are several nearby hotel options, such as the modern-designed Azure Hotel, with an outdoor pool in the heart of Mesa; or the Courtyard by Marriott Mesa at Wrigleyville, which is just a four-minute walk to Sloan Park.
Where to eat:
Chicago deep-pan pizza is obviously legendary, but have you tried Arizona pizza? Spinato’s Pizzeria & Family Kitchen promises to give some of the Windy City’s finest a run for their money, serving a huge selection of pies and warm sandwiches. For those wanting to try the local Mexican cuisine, Cocina Madrigal offers authentic dishes including tacos, enchiladas, deep-fried sweet churros, and, of course, margaritas.
Cubs player to watch:
After being released by the Boston Red Sox, Eric Hosmer signed with the Cubs in
January and is set to make his Spring Training debut with Chicago. The 2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP previously played for the San Diego Padres and the Kansas City Royals.
Home to the White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers during the spring season, this state-of-the-art facility is inspired by the Sonoran Desert. Along with 118,000 square feet of Major and Minor League clubhouse space, 13 full baseball fields, and three half-fields, it also features a five-acre landscaped lake stocked with fish and walking trails through citrus groves. The main stadium has a capacity of 13,000 people who can choose between the 3,000 lawn seats, 12 luxury suites, and a party deck. It also boasts two 100-foot shaded areas for protection from the desert sun, and a giant Daktronics video board so fans won’t miss a second of the action.
Where to stay:
There’s a plethora of hotel choices close to Camelback Ranch. The Comfort Suites Glendale is a comfortable, moderately priced option just 1.43 miles from the stadium.
For a more luxuriant stay, the Renaissance Glendale Hotel and Spa is located directly opposite the Arizona Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium.
Where to eat:
Cold beer and hot dog are the perfect meal for watching baseball, but for those wanting something a little more exotic, the Camelback area has a few unique options. Myungrang Hot Dog serves Korean corn dogs, where the sausage is coated in sweet panko batter and fried (be sure to top with Flaming Hot Cheeto crumbs). La Pasadita Hot Dogs offers a Mexican twist to traditional ballpark dogs, wrapped in bacon and topped with onions, pinto beans, and tomatoes.
White Sox player to watch:
Andrew Vaughn is set to take over at first base for the White Sox after Jose Abreu left for Houston. Fans are intrigued to see how the 24-year-old right-handed hitter fares stepping into such big shoes.
For a special night out in Phoenix book a table at Tía Carmen at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge where Executive Chef Angelo Sosa (Top Chef, Selena + Chef) creates southwestern classic dishes using a mix of traditional and modern culinary techniques. A protégé of Jean-George Vongerichten, Chef Sosa’s signature dishes include tuna crudo with chilled corn coconut broth, southwestern-style Wagyu tri-tip kababs and chicken guisado — a stew made with a mélange of cumin, annatto, arbol, and oregano. Ingredients are sourced from an onsite garden as well as from leading local farmers including iconic Tepary beans, foraged mushrooms and responsibly raised meat from Arizona Grass Fed Beef. Enjoy a memorable meal at this desert delight.
Tía Carmen is located at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa.