Cactus League Ball Parks: A League Of Their Own

Trip Start Mar 07, 2012
Trip End Mar 20, 2012

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What I did
All 10 Cactus League ball parks, Arena and Cooperstown (minus Alice Cooper)

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

As Roger Kahn detailed in The Boys of Summer (a classic book documenting the antics of growing up in Brooklyn during the 1940s-50s and following the often sad sack but loveable, losing Dodgers playing in iconic Ebbets Field), baseball spring training was a haphazard affair until Branch Rickey 'invented' the so-called farm system with the St Louis Cardinals organization. This systematic production line worked on the principle that baseball teams would be comprised of players of different ages, experience and skill levels vying for the opportunity to move "up the system" and to eventually compete for the 'top' jobs on the major league team. This was the so-called "farm system". In its pure form a baseball player would improve yearly with the object of getting to "The Show".  When this pinnacle was reached a player would become an elite member of one of the National (the senior league) or American League teams.

By the 1940s and early 1950s, most, if not all, Major League teams had finely structured, hierachial and understood farm systems. To feed this monster, teams would assemble large numbers of veteran, rookie and aspiring players at some destination (usually in Florida and less often in Arizona) where skills could be taught, evaluations conducted, intra and inter squad games played and where the proverbial metal could be tested. This was done in the spring, mostly in the month of March. Following the "spring training" experience, players would be assigned to various teams at different levels and sent hither and yonder across North America to carry the team colours with pride. 

If the plaque set into the concourse floor at the Phoenix Stadium (home to the Oakland As in 2012) is accurate (and why not?), the Cactus League officially began in 1954. With the arrival of the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs to  join up with the New York Giants in the 'Valley of the Sun', these Scottsdale and Mesa teams played with the Tucson based Cleveland Indians in a four team Cactus League.

In 2012, fifteen (15) of the thirty (30) Major League Baseball teams play in the Greater Phoenix area as members of the Cactus League. No teams are quartered in Tucson anymore. Whereas teams in the Grapefruit League are strung out all over Florida (making trips between different ball parks more of an adventure), the ball parks in Arizona are quite accessible given the excellent freeway and highway system in Phoenix. It is quite possible to spent two weeks or less visiting every park and seeing every team without undue effort. Entrance to ball parks is quite reasonable although the Cactus League's popularity results in many weekend and often some weekday games being sold out.

If you wish to develop a strategy for visiting each of the 10 ball parks, the following bit of intelligence may be useful. Divide the Greater Phoenix area into west and east with Central Avenue and the downtown as the dividing line. This should not be hard since downtown Phoenix harbours Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks) and US Airways Center (home of the basketball Phoenix Suns). Thus, five ball parks (Maryvale, Goodyear, Camelback Ranch, Peoria and Surprise) will be west/northwest/southwest while the other five parks (Phoenix, Tempe Diablo, Hohokam, Salt River Fields and Scottsdale) will reside east/northeast/southeast. There is a simple logic to the whole matter.

The Cactus League ball parks are modern, well appointed and quite amazing. They tend to range in seating capacity from around 10,000 to 13,000 if you count the tickets sold for fans who wish to spread out a blanket, bake in the sun and enjoy the outfield lawns or berms. Not all parks have lawns but most do.

Tickets for the games run the gamut from $8.00 to $48.00 depending on location, availability, time of the week or preference. A sun exposed seat on the lawn or berm is at the bottom end while upper level seating with a comfortable seat back can be more challenging. During this trip, the most expensive seat was in Tempe Diablo (not previously reserved and with serious demand) at $29.00 and the least expensive a high right field bleacher seat at Scottsdale for $11.00. Budgeting $16.00 to $20.00 per ticket should get you a decent main stands seat with $8.00 to $10.00 snapping up a suntanning delight lawn based piece of turf.

The ball parks are a major tourist attraction and significant revenue source for the Greater Phoenix region during the month of March. In 2011, over 1.65 million fans showed up to watch games. As such, there has been considerable money put into the facilities by the various cities and areas where the parks are located.

The following ball parks and teams comprise the Cactus League:
1. Camelback Ranch - Glendale: Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox
2. Goodyear Park - Goodyear: Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians
3. Surprise Stadium - Surprise: Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers
4. Peoria Sports Complex - Peoria: San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners
5. Maryvale Baseball Park - Phoenix: Milwaukee Brewers
6. Tempe Diablo Stadium - Tempe: Los Angeles Angels
7. Phoenix Municipal Stadium - Phoenix: Oakland Athletics
8. Scottsdale Stadium - Scottsdale: San Francisco Giants
9. Hohokam Park - Mesa: Chicago Cubs
10. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick - Scottsdale: Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies

The goal on this journey into the Valley of the Sun would be to visit each of the ten ball parks and to watch each of the fifteen teams in action. Why not? Why not see each park, take in the ambiance, walk around and enjoy the smells of each facility, sample some of the non-diet conscious food, check out the various brews on offer, watch the people, enjoy the people, sense the serenity of the occasion and feel like a kid, once more.

-If your preference is to do a little reading prior to heading off to buy a ticket and waltzing into one of the ball parks, there are any of a number of illuminating books to enjoy. For this occasion, I'll recommend five that happened to catch my fancy. Consider for a moment the following:
+"The Boys of Summer" by Roger Kahn
+"Moneyball" by Michael Lewis (or see the movie based on this work)
+"The Baseball Codes" by Jason Turbow
+"Baseball in the Garden of Eden" by John Thorn
+"Ball Four" by Jim Bouton
If you don't find these appealing, head off to the library or any good bookstore. Your search will be richly rewarded.

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Lynda Garcia on

Well said - I love baseball (GO DODGERS!)

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