Spring training is best bargain for seeing major-league game

March 6, 2013
The Arizona Republic
Michael Tulumello

The appeal of spring training seldom has been greater than today, judging by the enormous crowds the Cactus League is drawing.

For me, the idea of paying big-league prices to watch practice games is — well, outside of perhaps one game a year, after the weather warms — a bit mystifying.

Yet there are ways to enjoy spring training without spending much money.

Go to the practice sites early in the morning, around 8 a.m. Because of the close proximity of the Valley’s 15 teams, players often work out in the morning at their home complexes even if there’s a road game that day.

Teams such as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, among others, are known for being fan friendly. So fans often can get autographs and photos as the players walk to their workouts. And there’s no charge for watching these workouts.

Check out some of the venerable baseball hangouts, such as Don & Charlie’s and the reopened Pink Pony in Scottsdale. You might see Willie Mays, baseball’s greatest living player, signing books, or Commissioner Bud Selig, along with various scouts, executives, and current and former players.

If you’re going to go to a game, check out an older ballpark, such as Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which is nearing the end of its run as the home of the Oakland Athletics.

This is the stadium with the most history. Since 1964, such Hall of Famers as Mays, Willie McCovey, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn and (future Hall of Famer) Ken Griffey Jr. have played on this field.

Or visit Tempe Diablo Stadium, chronicled in the opening pages of the classic baseball book “Ball Four,” by Jim Bouton.

The past meets the present and the future with today’s tenants, the California Angels, who feature the game’s greatest current slugger in Albert Pujols along with Mike Trout, who enjoyed arguably the greatest rookie season in baseball history last year.

It helps that ticket and concession prices are lower at these older, more intimate settings than at some of the newer, overbuilt parks.

All in all, there’s plenty to see and do, even if you prefer the real Major League Baseball schedule over practice games.