Arizona Spring Training – Missing Our Annual Pilgrimage

This post is about baseball, but it doesn’t start with baseball. It starts with bowling, because bowling is the reason we make our annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Spring Training.

Back in 1992, I was living in Long Beach and joined a gay bowling league. I enjoyed bowling, but it wasn’t as much the sport that attracted me as it was the beer and the boys. Little did I know that in Las Vegas my future husband also joined a bowling league. On President’s Day weekend 1992 our paths collided when we both traveled to a gay bowling tournament in Phoenix.

The tournament was arranged so that teams were broken up and you bowled “singles” the first morning. Fate put both Dennis and I on the same lane that day, and I was smitten. I flirted shamelessly, to no avail at first. It took a long weekend of me stalking him across every bowling alley in the greater Phoenix area to finally catch him, and the rest is history.

Fast forward 20 years later, we’re living in Southern California, and our anniversary is coming up. It’s the “day we met” anniversary not the “day we married” one. Since we were together 16 years before we could legally marry, we celebrate both, an arrangement Dennis likes since it means he gets more presents. I had no idea what to give him. My husband loves baseball and I love him (I know he loves me too, but I’m not sure where I fall in the hierarchy when Mike Trout is involved) so I decided it would be romantic to take him back to the city where we first met, and treat him to some baseball at the same time. This is the way traditions start.

The legendary Mike Trout coming up to bat

We’ve gone back every year, only missing once due to my unfortunate fall and subsequent knee surgery (mentioned in my Portugal blog). In the nine years since, we’ve seen baseball games in every ballpark. My favorites are Tempe Diablo (because The Angels, or course!), Camelback, Talking Stick and Sloan Park (who doesn’t love the Cubs). I highly recommend buying your tickets in advance. Most single ticket sales open mid-December, and while you can easily snag them on resale sites like StubHub, I much prefer buying direct at mlb.com.

We’ve also found some favorite Phoenix spots along the way. For the first few years we stayed in different places around town, until in 2015 we found the perfect hotel in the Homewood Suites Tempe. It’s not the most luxurious place, but it’s nice and clean and the rooms have kitchenettes. They say location, location, location and this one is perfect to get to ballparks that are scattered all over the metro area. It’s close to dining and shopping, and since it’s blocks away from Sloan Park it’s also a haven for Cubs fans. They have a very nice breakfast buffet, although one year we did come down to find a wayward child standing in front of the waffle iron, the spatula stuck down the back of his pants. He was using it to scratch his butt! We never ate waffles there again.

Being creatures of habit, we also have some dining spots we go back to every year. Since our niece, who has made the annual pilgrimage with us, is a huge Rangers fan we always see one game at Surprise stadium, the Rangers’ home field. Angela’s Kitchen, a little gem of a cafe hidden in the community center of a retirement village, is our yearly apres-Rangers spot. We try to hit AZ88 for a lunchtime burger our last day in town. Pizzeria Bianco off Camelback is also one of our go-to spots, they have the best pizza and a spedini appetizer you have to try. One year we splurged and had dinner at Don and Charlie’s, a baseball legend that has sadly closed its doors permanently. We were lucky enough to spot another baseball legend while we were there, Willie Mays was in the lobby signing autographs for charity! The food was fantastic and Dennis proclaimed that the martini’s were even better.

Since you can only see so much baseball, we’ve also taken some great day trips. My favorite was our trek up to Sedona. It’s an easy drive, and the magnificent red rocks and enjoyable western themed downtown make it worth the effort. In fact, Sedona is worth more than a day so I’m looking forward to heading back for a longer stay next time.

To break up the baseball we also make time for shopping. A morning spent browsing the shops in downtown Scottsdale is always on our agenda. When we feel like getting really bougie we hit the Biltmore Fashion Park or the Scottsdale Fashion Square. There we never miss the Louis Vuitton store (our niece is a Louis Girl, as mentioned in my Portugal blog). After all that high end fashion I try to balance out the spending by hitting at least one of the many outlet malls around town; the Phoenix Premium Outlets in Chandler is my favorite.

I recently learned that Spring Training is going forward this year, and allowing fans. It looks like most parks are operating at 25% capacity, to allow for social distancing. We debated going, and decided with the short time to plan and continued pandemic concerns we would still skip this year. It was a sad and difficult decision, and makes me think of the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent baseball book, those words spoken by every team except one at the end of every season, “Wait Till Next Year”.

I’ll leave you with one of my niece’s favorite quotes from another of our shopping meccas, Baseballism.

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